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AR   2020-09-18
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Didymos
ESA
Didymos and Didymoon

 

2020 September 18

Covid-19 in the UK

The Guardian

A second wave of Covid-19 in the UK seems to be coming. Official figures confirm a 75% increase in positive weekly cases across England last week. More than 11 million people in England will soon be subject to enhanced lockdown measures.
MPs say the UK coronavirus test and trace system is "barely functional" and demand is many times capacity.
NHS test-and-trace program head Dido Harding: "I strongly refute that the system is failing."
Fewer than 2% of people using a home test kit in England got their results within 24 hours in the week to 9 September. One third of results from in-person tests were turned around within 24 hours, down from two thirds the previous week.
Harding: "We made a conscious decision because of the large increase in demand to extend the turnaround time in order to process the number of tests in the last couple of weeks."
A contact tracer: "Some people are being told by test and trace that they need to self-isolate when their isolation period has been and gone."
Liberal Democrats health spokesperson Munira Wilson: "The testing system is in meltdown. People can't access tests, turnaround times are down, cases are rising. The government is at risk of losing control of the virus."

"Chaos and inefficiency"
The Times

A scientist who toured government labs processing coronavirus tests says he was appalled to find they were struggling to cope with demand. The labs use cumbersome techniques, are running out of staff, and have failed to set up automatic processes in preparation for a second wave.
Baroness Harding of Winscombe is responsible for the system. She says predictions by scientific advisers had not anticipated demand for tests.

AR Germany is #1 in a Covid-19 regional safety assessment of over 250 countries and regions by the
Deep Knowledge Group.

 

Hera Asteroid Mission

Stuart Clark

European Space Agency has awarded a €129 million contract to the German space company OHB for the design, manufacturing, and testing of Hera, the European contribution to a planetary defense mission called the asteroid impact and deflection assessment. The other component is the NASA double asteroid redirection test DART.
Both spacecraft are designed to visit the asteroid Didymos (780 m diameter) and its small moon Dimorphos (160 m). In September 2022, DART will crash at high speed into the moon Dimorphos to alter its orbit by a small amount.
Hera will launch in 2024 and arrive in 2026, running under an automated guidance, navigation, and control system developed by ESA. It will also deploy the miniature satellites Juventas and Asteroid Prospection Explorer.

AR Recall the movies Armageddon and Deep Impact.

 

Poole Harbour
⦿ HR
Sunset, Poole Harbour, Thursday
 

Auf Wiedersehen

SOTEU 2020

Fool
The New European
UK government "Rule of 6"
for social distancing makes
exception for hunting
parties — er, why?

Labour
Conservatives
A good reason to vote Labour

 

2020 September 17

EU−UK Trade Deal

Financial Times

European president Commission Ursula von der Leyen says the UK decision to pursue legislation overriding elements of the withdrawal agreement came as a "very unpleasant surprise" to the EU and it is down to London to restore trust and remove the question mark it puts over the treaty.
She says EU−UK talks should continue: "I am still convinced it can be done. It is better not to have this distraction questioning an existing international agreement that we have, but to focus on getting this deal done, this agreement done — and time is short."

Bodger Bill Still Breaks Law
BBC News

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has amended his Internal Market Bill to head off a backbencher rebellion.
Former Conservative leader Lord Howard: "The government is still asking parliament to break international law."
Sir Keir Starmer: "The latest fudge by way of amendments doesn't take the problem away, it just changes the problem."
Johnson believes the EU may not be negotiating with the UK in good faith in trade deal talks.

UK vs US
The Guardian

US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden: "Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period."
Former Conservative cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith: "We don't need lectures on the Northern Ireland peace deal from Mr Biden. If I were him, I'd worry more about the need for a peace deal in the US to stop the killing and rioting before lecturing other sovereign nations."

AR Trust Bodger to turn a divorce into a shitshow.

 

State of the Union

Ursula von der Leyen

A virus laid bare the strains on our health systems and the limits of a model that values wealth above wellbeing. It brought into sharper focus the planetary fragility that we see every day through melting glaciers and burning forests.
This is the moment for Europe to lead the way toward a new vitality. As individuals, we have all sacrificed a piece of our personal liberty for the safety of others. And as a Union, we all shared a part of our sovereignty for the common good. We showed what is possible when we trust each other and trust our European institutions.
This is our opportunity to make change happen by design, not by disaster or by diktat from others in the world. We have everything we need to make this happen. We have the vision, we have the plan, we have the investment.
[ ... ] We need new beginnings with old friends on both of sides of the Atlantic and on both sides of the Channel.
Negotiations with the UK have not progressed as we would have wished. The Withdrawal Agreement took three years to negotiate and we worked relentlessly on it. The result guarantees our citizens' rights, financial interests, the integrity of the Single Market, and the Good Friday Agreement. The agreement has been ratified by both parliaments and cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded, or disapplied. This a matter of law, trust, and good faith.
Europe will always be ready to build strong partnerships with our closest neighbours.

AR The UK should rejoin the EU.

 

Brexit Plan Breaks UK

Philip Stephens

Brexit has made Scottish independence inevitable.
Government legislation to create a new UK single market across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland shows contempt for the UK constitutional settlement. The Anglo-Scottish union of 1707 was a contingent agreement. Boris Johnson's claim that there is no border between the two nations shows ignorance.
Brexit can be the occasion for a new settlement between the four constituent parts of the union. Powers reclaimed from Brussels can be distributed to every corner of the UK. Johnson declares in public that he is a unionist, but privately he says Scotland spends money raised from English taxpayers on lavish welfare.
The legislation now before parliament to create a UK single market would tighten England’s grip over the rest of the UK. Decisions on norms, laws, and standards hitherto shared with Brussels will belong solely to Westminster. Powers held by the Scottish parliament and Northern Ireland and Welsh assemblies will be diluted.
Scotland is imprisoned by English Conservatives.

AR The UK is past its best-before date.

 

Planar Graph Algorithm

Quanta

A new algorithm for determining when you can add edges to a graph so that it remains planar is exponentially faster than the previous algorithm from 1996.
Graphs are sets of nodes connected by edges. They can be used to represent everything from a social network to road systems to the electrical connections on a circuit board. If the graph is not planar, two roads or wires cross each other.
The 1996 algorithm runtime was proportional to the square root of the number of nodes in the graph. The new algorithm runtime is proportional to the cube of the logarithm of the number of nodes in the graph — an exponential improvement.
The same planar graph can be drawn in many ways. By showing that a flip that helps you add a new edge also makes the graph a better drawing, the new algorithm puts a backstop on the number of flips you may need to add an edge.
The new algorithm performs flips one at a time, searching for a solution. Either the algorithm finds a way to insert the desired edge, or the next flip undoes the previous flip, at which point you know you cannot add the edge.
Its runtime approaches the lower bound for this kind of problem. In real-world applications, graphs are usually simple enough to check by brute force.

AR Nice work!

 

2020 September 16

The Abraham Accords

The Times

President Trump heralded the "dawn of a new Middle East" yesterday: "We are here this afternoon to change the course of history .. The people of the Middle East will no longer allow hatred of Israel to be fomented as an excuse for radicalism or extremism. This is an incredible day for the world, this is a really wonderful and beautiful occasion."
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the accords "the greatest diplomatic triumph of our history" and told Trump: "You have a key to the hearts of the Jewish people."

AR Wait a few months to see how well it sticks.

 

Getting Brexit Done

Financial Times

The message "Get Brexit Done" helped return Boris Johnson as prime minister with a big majority last December.
Labour leader Keir Starmer now says Brexit cannot be reversed. He says the Conservatives are wrongly "reopening old wounds on Brexit" with their legislation to override parts of the divorce deal signed with the EU last year.
The bill increases the prospect of a no-deal exit at the end of the transition period on December 31, but Labour is pushing for the best possible trade deal with UK partners in the EU.
Sir Keir says the government should be focused on tackling the pandemic rather than Europe.

Brexit Shenanigans
Rafael Behr

Boris Johnson claims to have signed an international agreement by mistake. In his telling, the UK was bamboozled into a bad deal last year. He is either a fool or a crook.
He defends his bill on the grounds that Brussels threatens the "territorial integrity" of the UK. He conjures the prospect of a blockade, a depiction too twisted by mendacity to work even as a caricature of the facts.
Downing Street is concerned that UK businesses operating in Northern Ireland would be subject to Brussels regulations regarding industrial subsidy. The rules might "reach back" from Belfast to the rest of Britain.
Johnson sounds like a man resting a baseball bat against a shop window and telling the proprietor what a shame it would be if his premises were to come to any harm.

AR Give NI back to Ireland and rejoin the EU.

 

Toffs and Sex

Sophia Money-Coutts

Posh men are slightly scared of sex and learn early to treat it like a bloody good laugh. Ridiculing sex, making it less terrifying, is also why poshos love a slang word for it. When I worked at Tatler, we wrote pieces on the etiquette of the threesome, posh girls with whips, spanking, and telling dog toys from sex toys. Toffs often treat the act itself as a field sport, just like shooting. Both can be done outside. Both can be done in wellies. Both are often frightfully messy, but you clear up afterwards with a jolly hot bath.

AR For more nuance on sex, read Martin Amis.

 

Martin Amis
⦿ Elena Seibert
Martin Amis: "I was horrified that Trump got in .. This election is going to be a referendum on the American character."
 

Edinburgh
Arch White
Edinburgh, Monday

Liberty
Eugène Delacroix
Liberty leading the people

Venus rising
⦿ Christy Lee Rogers

HHH

Greta
HULU
I Am Greta

Sun
⦿ Brett Battles
Sun, from California

SODEM
Protest, Saturday
Noon, Chequers

 

2020 September 15

Trump vs Science

Stephen Collinson

Donald Trump again ditched research and data on multiple fronts Monday with America under assault from concurrent crises.
His spinners are trying to cook the facts on the pandemic, which has claimed almost 200,000 Americans partly as a result. Trump continues to flout epidemiological guidelines by cramming people into indoor events that risked spreading Covid-19.
The president harbors bizarre theories on health, the environment, and other issues. He has turned away from science and expertise.
Trump visited California for a briefing on the fires that have consumed more than 3 million acres in a record year and have also ravaged other Western states. He said a failure to rake forest floors was responsible for creating tinderbox conditions.
Scientists say longer dry seasons and warmer weather are worsening forest fires. A local official told Trump it was time to take "our head out of the sand" by relying on the forest management excuse.
Trump: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch."
Official: "I wish science agreed with you."
Trump: "I don't think science knows, actually."

AR We don't think Trump knows.

 

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Bill Gates

I warned that we were not prepared for the next pandemic. Our foundation can help fund scientists, but we cannot solve all the world's health problems.
Diagnostics were very poorly orchestrated in the United States. We should never have paid for test results that took longer than 24 hours. We should ensure that tests are available in the poorer areas of a city and not just for wealthier patients. The US response is much worse than it should have been, and the political leadership is responsible for this.
If this presidential election goes one way, the US will stay in the WHO and continue to pay its contributions without interruption. If the choice goes the other way, I still hope to convince the government that the money for WHO is well spent, even by the selfish yardstick of America First.
Aside from the US government, our foundation is the largest investor in vaccines. We invest billions and billions of dollars in development.

AR Here's a man who understands science.

 

Ed Miliband Humiliates Boris Johnson

John Crace

The House of Commons debated the Brexit withdrawal bill last night. Former Labour leader Ed Miliband ripped into Boris Johnson and left him hopelessly exposed.
Johnson opened the debate in person. The EU wasn't negotiating in good faith. It was trying to blockade clotted cream being imported to Northern Ireland from Devon. No British parliament could possibly sign up to this.
Former attorney general Jeremy Wright challenged Boris on the ministerial code of breaking international law. Johnson said his attorney general had reckoned that the government could do anything Boris wanted it to. Wright just shook his head.
Miliband goaded the prime minister for his failure to understand Northern Ireland protocol and asked how he expected other countries to take us at our word if we broke international treaties. At first Boris merely rolled his eyes, willing Ed to disappear, but by the end there was nothing but cold fury in his stares.
Miliband delivered his arguments with the panache of a man who knew he had right on his side: "Come on, I know you're a details man. Show me the blockade. I will give way to you."
Boris remained almost immobile, the blood draining from his face, busted. He sneaked out of the chamber shortly after his evisceration, humiliated.

AR Thanks to mad UK rules, Boris still won the vote on his bill by 77 votes.

 

The Romantics and Us

Melanie Phillips

Sir Simon Schama says the preoccupations of our modern era, such as equality, sexual licence, or veneration of the natural world, go back to the Romantic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This was a revolt against convention and authority, elevating the rights of the individual and downplaying reason in favour of emotion and sensibility.
The Romantics belief the world could be remade through creativity and passionate emotion. Beauty was associated with generous behaviour, poetry with moral truth. The 1830 painting by Eugène Delacroix, Liberty leading the people, became the poster symbol of the 1968 student uprising in Paris.
Romantic idealism articulates feelings we all most deeply share. The imagination is a potent source of human sympathy, and Romanticism seems generous and inclusive. But often, the dreamers betray us all.
In the British Enlightenment, compassion was a social virtue. In France, the Enlightenment was not so benevolent. And the German Romantic movement developed both communism and fascism.
Schama is a Romantic. His new TV series is a source of enchantment. The heart soars, even though the head may shake in sorrow.

AR Typically, Phillips has soured this review with snide praise for Britain over the nasty continentals. The German Enlightenment — Hegel and all that — was glorious.

 

Alien Life in the Clouds of Venus?

New Scientist

Astronomers looking at Venus using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile see signs of phosphine gas in the Venusian clouds.
The only way phosphine is made on Earth is in laboratories or by microbes. The researchers tested a variety of ways to produce phosphine on Venus but failed to account for the observed quantity.
The surface of Venus is hellish (740 K, 90 bar), but conditions are temperate (300 K, 1 bar) at 50−60 km above ground level, where the phosphine was found.
The researchers say phosphine on Venus should persist for less than 30 Gs before it is destroyed, so something must be continually replenishing it for it to exist in the observed concentrations.
We would like to sample the atmosphere and chemically analyze it. A couple of balloons have been sent to Venus, but this is a tough engineering challenge.

AR I think Venus is more promising than Mars for life.

 

2020 September 14

UK Trade Deals

Financial Times

The new UK trade deal with Japan commits it to tougher restrictions on state aid than the ones it is currently offering the EU in the Brexit talks.
In the bilateral UK−Japan agreement announced in principle on Friday, London and Tokyo have agreed to replicate the restrictions on subsidies in the EU−Japan deal that went into effect last year.
The EU subsidy regime is the main sticking point in the EU-UK negotiations. The UK government faces a major contradiction.

 

Honour rests on keeping our word

Geoffrey Cox

When the Queen's minister gives his word, on her behalf, it should be axiomatic that he will keep it, even if the consequences are unpalatable. By doing so he pledges the faith, honour and credit of this nation and it diminishes the standing and reputation of Britain in the world if it should be seen to be otherwise.
No British minister should solemnly undertake to observe treaty obligations with his fingers crossed behind his back. The withdrawal agreement and its attendant Northern Ireland protocol represent treaty obligations of this country to which the government, in which I had the honour to serve as attorney general, gave its solemn and binding word. It is therefore obliged to accept all the ordinary and foreseeable consequences of the implementation of that agreement.
Those manifest consequences included the inevitable application of EU tariffs and customs procedures to certain goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain and of the EU's state aid regime to the province. There can be no doubt that these were the known, unpalatable but inescapable, implications of the agreement. They included a duty to interpret and execute both the agreement and the protocol in good faith.

 

Bodger and his gang of bovver boys

Andrew Rawnsley

Boris Johnson is ready to violate a treaty that he negotiated less than a year ago, made the centre of his election campaign last December, and then had the Commons rapidly ratify in January.
Margaret Thatcher would melt in horror that a government that calls itself Conservative is fighting for the right to use government subsidies to subvert the single market.
Dominic Cummings wants to direct government aid in support of tech ventures. He wants to splash taxpayers' money at any "moonshot" idea that launches off the top of his head.
A senior Tory: "The climate of fear in Whitehall that [Johnson and Cummings] have created means officials don't rush to warn them when they're about to make a mistake."

AR I hope the bill will be defeated today.

 

2020 September 13

Irresponsible, Wrong, and Dangerous

John Major, Tony Blair

Last October, the UK concluded an international treaty with the EU for the terms of Brexit.
Last week, with the Brexit negotiations in disarray, the UK government published a bill that it openly admits is a violation of that treaty.
The government says breaking international law is necessary to save the Good Friday agreement. We disagree. If parliament passes this bill, the UK will end up before the European Court of Justice.
This way of negotiating is irresponsible, wrong, and dangerous. This latest ruse has spectacularly misfired.

A lamentable summer
The Observer

Boris Johnson has made himself the target of excoriating criticism from two former prime ministers.
His government's internal market bill allows ministers to unilaterally overturn parts of the EU withdrawal agreement, in contravention of international law.
The EU has threatened legal action if the government does not alter the bill by the end of the month. The UK threat undermines trust and reduces the chance of an agreement.
The apparent intention was to lay the blame with the EU if no deal is reached. It seems there is no principle Johnson will not trample over if it suits his political agenda.
The government is threatening to rip up the Good Friday agreement. Any other government would have pursued a Brexit that kept the UK aligned with the single market and customs union. Johnson is willing to play petty politics instead.
The consequences will be felt too in our relationship with the United States. There are also broader repercussions for Britain's international standing.
Britain is on the cusp of a second pandemic wave, and we have a charlatan as our prime minister.

AR Bodger has ruined Britain.

 

The Roots of Populism

Matthew Goodwin

This is the age of populism. The populists may have had a terrible crisis, with their poll ratings crashing in most democracies, but their lingering presence reminds us of a deep reservoir of disillusionment and despair.
David Goodhart says our societies elevate highly educated cognitive elites (the Heads) above manual workers (the Hands) and people who care for their families and fellow citizens (the Hearts).
Goodhart previously identified a conflict over values between the Somewheres, who cherish their ascribed identities (faith, flag, family) and the Anywheres, who cherish their achieved identities (degree, career, success).
Given the AI and robot revolution, cognitive elites no longer have the world to themselves. Bespoke design jobs led by Hands and jobs that require emotional intelligence led by Hearts will boom in the years ahead.
Populist rebellions were driven by the Hands and Hearts. Britain has seen one of the strongest backlashes against Heads, although the irony is that voters have turned to renegade Heads to lead the revolt.
For the first time in the postwar era, Heads are having to make room for Hands and Hearts, who want to stay rooted in their communities and to enjoy an improved social status.

AR The AIR revolution magnifies the real power of the Heads, so much so that they can indulge the demands of Hands and Hearts.

 

2020 September 12

Calamity for Britain

Peter Oborne

Twenty years ago, Boris Johnson hired me as political correspondent at the Spectator magazine. He was a joy to work for, a fine editor, and a loyal colleague. He stood up for the rule of law, for the UK, for the international order, and for honest politics.
This week, prime minister Johnson has deliberately trashed Britain's reputation around the world. Never before has a cabinet minister stated in the Commons that he knew a course of action was unlawful, but that he was going ahead to do it anyway.
Here is my own attempt at reconciling the inspirational editor I worked for two decades ago with the dishonest lawbreaker in 10 Downing Street today.
Early last year, Johnson entered into a bargain with Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings. They would propel him to Downing Street, enabling him to realise his ambition to become prime minister. But Gove and Cummings are in power. This is their policy.
Johnson is scared. His government is a national disaster. He senses that history will damn him as one of Britain's worst prime ministers. The nation needs a sober leader at this grave and terrible time.

AR Dump Dom.

 

The Future Has Arrived

Peter Gleick

Too much of the western United States is on fire. The fires are earlier, bigger, and hotter than usual.
We are reaping the consequences of more than a century of using the atmosphere as a dumping ground for carbon dioxide. For more than half a century, scientists have been warning of the growing threat of climate change.
The future has arrived. What we see now, with massive wildfires, worsening storms, unprecedented heat, and record droughts and floods is just the beginning of the climate changes to come. On top of rising oceans, the accelerating destruction of the Arctic ice cap, expanding water crises, and new health disasters, these climate impacts are something no human society has ever experienced. We remain woefully unprepared.
The influence of climate change on wildfires is easy to see. Global warming is diminishing our mountain snowpack, leading to hotter and drier summers. Severe droughts over the past decade have killed hundreds of millions of trees in our forests, adding to the fuels available to burn. Higher temperatures further dry out forest and rangeland soils.
The wildfire signal of climate change is being seen around the world, in southern Europe, Canada, Australia, South America, and Africa. Other climate-change impacts are accelerating too, in the form of storms, melting glaciers, rising seas, and more.
It is time for our politicians to lead or get out of the way. There is no time to waste.

AR America: First ratify the Paris accord.

 

2020 September 11

EU Warns UK

Financial Times

EU officials told the UK on Thursday to immediately scrap its plans to override the Brexit treaty or face legal action.
The European Commission gave the UK government a deadline of the end of September to withdraw its planned internal market bill, warning that it threatened the Good Friday Agreement and "seriously damaged trust" between the EU and the UK.
EU diplomats say they have no intention of immediately shutting down the trade talks, as this would fall into a trap set by the UK. A diplomat: "If the UK wants a no-deal, it should just say so. We are working calmly and patiently towards a deal."
Former Tory party leader Michael Howard joined former prime ministers John Major and Theresa May in accusing the government of tarnishing Britain's international reputation.
EU options include hauling the UK before the European Court of Justice or launching an arbitration process.

AR EU right, UK wrong.

 

Universal Emptiness

Charlie Wood

The modern universe looks too dilute.
On its way to Earth, light from a distant galaxy passes lumps of dark matter and clouds of gas. These bend the light gravitationally and kink the path of light reaching us. We can map statistical distortions in the shapes of huge numbers of distant galaxies across the sky.
The Kilo-Degree Survey (KiDS) observed millions of galaxies up to 100 Ym away. Calculated average distributions of hidden gas and dark matter showed clumps almost 10% thinner than the ΛCDM forecast. Multiple surveys using different techniques find similar results.
We need more data.

AR As always!

 

Milky Way
⦿ Lilia Alexander
Milky Way over Mount Taranaki, New Zealand
 

Rage

Star

Shakira
Shakira

Mitchell
John Cameron Mitchell
New American Dream

Kampfner

 

2020 September 10

Trump Misled America

David Smith

Bob Woodward conducted 18 interviews with Donald Trump between December 2019 and July 2020 to write his new book Rage.
On January 28, US national security adviser Robert O'Brien warned Trump that Covid-19 would be the biggest national security threat of his presidency.
On February 7, Trump told Woodward: "It goes through the air. That's always tougher than the touch. You don't have to touch things .. you just breathe the air and that's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one .. This is deadly stuff."
On March 19, Trump told Woodward: "I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."
On April 3, Trump said at the White House: "I said it's going away and it is going away."
On April 5, he told Woodward: "It's a horrible thing. It's unbelievable."
In May, Woodward asked Trump if he remembered O'Brien's warning in January. He replied: "No, I don't, I'm sure if he said it — you know, I'm sure he said it. Nice guy."
In July, Trump told Woodward: "The virus has nothing to do with me. It's not my fault. It's .. China let the damn virus out."
Trump dismisses the book as "just another political hit job" and adds: "We wanna show confidence, we wanna show strength as a nation, and that's what I've done. And we've done very well from any standard."
America has the highest Covid caseload (6.35 million infections) and highest death toll (over 190,000) in the world. It also has one of the highest fatality rates per 100,000 population, at 58.

AR Damning

 

The Nuclear Threat

Jessica T. Mathews

In the early 1960s, USAF Strategic Air Command was asked how many Russians, Chinese, and Eastern Europeans would die from its nuclear war plan. The answer was 275 million, just from the blasts.
The United States and the Soviet Union each accumulated more than 30,000 nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Since then, the deployed US and Russian nuclear arsenals have been cut by nearly 90%, but we are not safer today.
China is now aggressively modernizing and enlarging its small nuclear arsenal. Russia and the United States are modernizing their arsenals with entire menus of new weapons. And there is deep and growing distrust among the great powers.
There are no metrics to measure what makes a deterrent credible. For the case that deterrence fails, making weapons and plans for every situation may be misunderstood as preparing an attack. Reasons to think that planning for limited nuclear war is fantasy emerge from any study of history, of how humans act under pressure, or of government.
At a disastrous briefing for Donald Trump in the summer of 2017 in the Pentagon, he was shown a chart illustrating US and Russian success in cutting their arsenals from more than 30,000 warheads to about 6,000 each. Why aren't we building back up to 30,000, Trump demanded in a tantrum. Modernizing the entire strategic nuclear force is now his top priority. The estimated price tag over the coming 25 years is $1.7 trillion.
The Trump administration has announced it will withdraw from the INF Treaty. The only remaining limit on strategic arms is New START, which expires in early 2021 unless extended by mutual agreement. The treaty limits each side to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 launchers.
Trump seems eager for a new arms race. US arms control negotiator Marshall Billingslea: "We know how to win these races, and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion."

AR Madness

 

2020 September 9

European Reshoring

Franck Riester

A Brexit deal remains unattainable so long as the UK remains unwilling to be bound by rules that would ensure a level playing field in trade with the EU.
We in France will try to stay calm and serene but firmly behind the line of the EU27. A compromise can come into play, but it is unattainable until the UK moves on the essential matter, which is the ability to ensure that trade is fair.
Europe needs to ensure respect for a certain number of principles such as reciprocity, the fight against global warming, mobilising for biodiversity, and so on. I think the coronavirus crisis has accelerated the awareness in public opinion and among different leaders.
Reshoring production of certain items is not about making everything in Europe or saying we will never again import raw materials, products, or services. It's about ensuring that we are self-sufficient in certain sectors or for certain products that seem essential.
The EU needs to look at those strategic sectors in which we should have some sort of autonomy in Europe. Globalization must not be detrimental to certain common goods: biodiversity, climate, child protection, the things essential to the world we live in.
We are reshoring and fighting for European sovereignty. But we want to keep the spirit of winning and expanding internationally.

AR Vive l'Europe!

 

British Brain Drain

Ulf Schmidt

After more than 25 years in the UK, I am leaving to take up a professorship at Hamburg University in Germany. England no longer feels like home.
England seems characterized by an impassioned anti-intellectualism that seeks simple answers and negates context and complexity. Politicians and university leaders need to see that commodification and commercialization of knowledge is fundamentally flawed.
Young people are told they are "consumers" in a shop where they can choose what and when to learn. They can expect a "service" and can take their university to court if their course did not "deliver" promised results. This is no longer a viable, decent learning environment.
Britain's cherished higher education sector, once the envy of the world, is on the brink of collapse. The sector is bankrupt, not just financially, but morally.

AR Sehe ich auch so.

 

Neuromorphic Computing

Danijela Marković et al.

Neuromorphic computing takes inspiration from the brain to create energy-efficient hardware for sophisticated information processing. Systems built with standard electronics achieve gains in speed and energy by mimicking the distributed topology of the brain. Scaling up such systems and improving their energy usage, speed, and performance by several orders of magnitude requires a revolution in hardware.
Including more physics in the algorithms and using nanoscale materials for data processing could have a major impact in neuromorphic computing. Results that leverage physics to enhance the computing capabilities of artificial neural networks include using resistive switching materials, photonics, and spintronics. These approaches could lead to low-power, miniaturized chips that infer and learn in real time.

AR Bio-inspired Computing (deutsche Fassung)

 

2020 September 8

Outlaw Government

BBC News, 1547 UTC

UK government Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis told the Commons: "Yes, this does break international law in a very specific and limited way. We're taking the powers to disapply the EU law."

"A new ace up Britain's sleeve"
Marina Hyde

This is yet another crunch week in the Brexit we apparently got done eight months ago. But the government is now affecting not to understand the Brexit deal it has already signed and will seek to override it.
According to the Daily Telegraph, "Brexit deal never made sense," said the prime minister who negotiated it, then made his "oven-ready" Brexit deal the centrepiece of his election campaign.
UK Brexit negotiator David Frost cites his inspiration as Charles de Gaulle: "[He] always behaved as if his country was a great country even when it seemed to have fallen very low, and thus made it become a great country yet again."
But Britain is not behaving like a great power, despite the Daily Express describing some nonsense wheeze as a "new ace up Britain's sleeve" — a metaphor that simply confirms the UK is a country that cheats at cards.
The best you could say is that Britain is behaving like Donald Trump. Lying, reneging, then lying about the lies you told leave people believing there are no objective facts and all news is fake.

AR Must we break the law to oust this rotten regime?

 

British Brexit Brinkmanship

Financial Times

Boris Johnson's government plans to publish a bill to nullify the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement already signed with the EU that Brexiteers say stops the UK reclaiming its sovereignty. But even as a mere tactic to break the deadlock in talks, the thinking here is flawed.
The gambit suggests that bluster and bluff lay behind signing the withdrawal agreement last year. The hardball tactics may be aimed at providing cover for later backroom concessions by the government. Yet every hint from a London official that compliance with UK commitments to the EU is optional has only increased resolve in Brussels to make them legally binding.
Brandishing the nuclear option of failing to comply fully with the withdrawal deal risks triggering the collapse of the talks. While the government may feel the economic damage of a no-deal Brexit is easier to hide in the midst of a global pandemic, the harm to the UK will not be lessened. A sudden rupture with its biggest trading partner during its deepest recession for decades would magnify the harm of coronavirus.
One thing worse than a no-deal Brexit would be one where Britain also calls into question its readiness to abide by treaties. Johnson is playing with fire.

AR Get Bodger and his mistress and his Dom out of No 10.

 

2020 September 7

The Tyrant Clown

Robert McCrum

My long affair with America, as an idea as much as a reality, began in the bicentennial year, 1976. Today, I lament the end of a long love affair.
I first felt it when, visiting New York in 2017, I attended a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in Central Park. From the moment a strawberry blond Caesar in a MAGA baseball cap bounded on stage in a white shirt and a long red tie, this was a polemic on the leadership of an orange monster, half-clown, half-tyrant.
Like many US admirers, I've argued that America is not broken. But my admiration for the United States choked and died this year, bludgeoned by the racism, cruelty, corruption, and outright stupidity of the current administration.
Part of America's appeal, as a democratic experiment, is its Anglo-Saxon pragmatism, its willingness always to frame its radicalism as provisional, a work in progress. Such drive is exhilarating. Its audacity remains the age of reason's best assertion of human ambition.
The American ferment of ideas is noisy, messy, and occasionally violent. The tree of liberty was watered by the blood of patriots. But America's fundamental humanity was an inspiration.
Now it feels as if the well of US independence has been poisoned. Where language once provided a narrative line, now we find hate-filled presidential tweets. Ideas used to be a basis for community, now they only sponsor a raucous shouting match.
For the whole world, this is a democratic emergency. America was always a shining ideal, a society engaged in moral choices about improving the way people live. Today, that light has gone out.
We, once faithful supporters, have lost our appetite for the American ideal. When we contemplate the imminent battle, we feel dismay.

AR Sad, but the truth will out.

 

Germany Does Things Better

John Kampfner

In January 2021, Germany will be 150 years old. The country has developed a maturity that few others can match, and it has done so the hard way.
Coronavirus provided the ultimate test of leadership. Angela Merkel rose to the challenge. She told Germans in precise detail the sacrifices they would have to make and the emergency laws her government would have to impose. She never boasted.
Britain provided a case study of how not to deal with a crisis. The bombast of Boris Johnson was in inverse proportion to his government's competence. With a mixture of libertarianism and English exceptionalism, the prime minister declared that Britain would get through it.
The UK has had the highest death toll in Europe. This tragedy followed Brexit. Germans watched in horror as a country they admired for its pragmatism fell into pseudo-Churchillian self-delusion.
The beautiful border city of Aachen tells the German and European story in microcosm. This was the front line where the Germans sent troops into Flanders in 1914 and where American tanks crossed the Siegfried Line in 1944. Under Allied control, the city became a test bed for postwar democratic reconstruction.
Aachen is the centre of Europe, the cradle of Western European culture. It is synonymous with Charlemagne, who brought most of Europe under his wing. In 1806, when Napoleon invaded the city, he declared: "Je suis Charlemagne."
The city made its first annual Charlemagne award in 1950. Among the Charlemagne laureates are Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill, Robert Schuman, Edward Heath, Roy Jenkins, Tony Blair, Jean-Claude Juncker, Angela Merkel, Donald Tusk, and Emmanuel Macron.
Germany is a bulwark for decency and stability, the standard bearer for liberal democracy.

AR Defend it, support it.

ESS
ESS
AR Explaining the tail-enders: Switzerland is a haven for tax exiles who want to launder their loot in secrecy,
Norway has oil revenues it wants to keep out of the hands of EU big spenders, and the UK has been hijacked
by a cabal of disaster capitalists who aim to skim blood money from Brexit into their offshore accounts.
 

SOTEU

I EU

Kim Darroch
Hachette
Donald Trump tweet:
"The wacky ambassador that
the UK foisted on the United
States is not someone we are
thrilled with, a very stupid
guy .. We will no longer
deal with him."
Sir Kim resigned when
Boris Johnson failed
to back him.

Emily Riehl
QUANTA
Emily Riehl

We are EU

arrow
Chromodialectics
God VIII = Globorg
God IX = Gaia

Sunfall

 

2020 September 6

Trump Tattle

The Sunday Times

Donald Trump says he has not seen proof that Alexei Navalny, the Russian activist in a German hospital, was poisoned. He says what happened was "tragic" but urges the media to focus on China.
The Atlantic claims that in 2018 Trump refused to visit a US cemetery in France because he thought the rain would upset his hair: "Why should I go to that cemetery? It's filled with losers."
Trump denies the allegations: "If people really exist that would have said that, they're low-lifes and they're liars."
A Fox News reporter says Trump said anyone who served in the Vietnam War was a "sucker" and asked: "What's in it for them? They don't make any money."

AR I judge not, lest I too be judged.

 

Brexit: "We won't blink"

Lord Frost

We want to be able to control our own laws and do things our way.
We are not going to be a client state. We are not going to compromise on the fundamentals of having control over our own laws. We are not going to accept level playing field provisions that lock us in to the way the EU do things. We are not going to accept provisions that give them control over our money or the way we can organise things here in the UK.
That's what being an independent country is about, that's what the British people voted for, and that's what will happen at the end of the year, come what may.
What we want is the restoration of our own sovereignty and freedom as a country. This happens whether the EU likes it or not at the end of the year.
We are not going to agree to any arrangement that leaves the EU with some say over what we do with our money. We're not going to accept that sort of control because that wasn't what Brexit was about.
We want to get back the powers to control our borders. If we can reach an agreement that regulates trade like Canada's, great. If we can't, it will be an Australian-like trading agreement. We are fully ready for that.

UK chief Brexit negotiator David Frost studied medieval European history at Oxford: "My view is that medieval history is just as relevant to making decisions as more recent history."

AR Bring on the siege engines: Starve the Brexiteers into submission.

 

The Brexit Election

David Graeber

The 2019 general election in the UK was a victory for older voters. Swing voters broke right, not left.
In the Labour party, Blairites had defined the pragmatic center of British politics, where the UK economy would continue to be driven by finance, construction, and real estate. The result was that almost everyone spent more time filling out forms. The UK is now home to almost half a million accountants and lawyers.
Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Labour leader to turn the party back into a social movement. Young people began to join Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) to move to grassroots democracy. For them, the real issues were austerity, wages, health, education, and public services.
For most in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), these developments caused alarm. They found themselves so out of step with their CLPs that they saw any effort to democratize the internal workings of the party as a threat.
Ever since the economic crash of 2008, the left had tried to make villains of the bankers. Yet this approach gained little traction. The right instead tried to make villains of the bureaucrats.
Around the globe, developed economies have seen a huge growth (1) of clerical, administrative, and supervisory work, and (2) of care work: medical, educational, maintenance, social care, and so on. Productivity in the caring sector has decreased, largely due to the growing number of administrators. This decline has squeezed wages.
A global revolt of the caring classes benefited not the left but the right. Formerly leftist parties from the United States to Japan had rebranded themselves to represent the new middle classes. They learned to see society, democracy, and rule of law less as a web of human relationships than as a set of rules and institutional procedures.
For most caregivers, administrators are the enemy. If you are a nurse, they are your real class antagonist. The managers not only get big salaries but also hire useless flunkies who then create endless reams of new paperwork.
Labour incorporates both the teachers and the school administrators, both the nurses and their managers. The party finds it hard to speak for the revolt of the caring classes.
The new populists present themselves as the precise opposite of the infuriating administrator whose rules, meetings, paperwork, and seminars make it impossible for you to do your job. Brexit politics pushed Labour into defending administrators.
The Leave campaign took aim at immigration and at distant and uncaring Brussels bureaucrats. Leavers argued that Remainers in Whitehall were using every sort of procedural trick in the book to thwart the popular will.
The UK rejected centrism. It now has a hard-right government with no idea how to translate Brexit into economic prosperity. Boris Johnson may be remembered as one of the most disastrous prime ministers in British history.

AR Managers versus carers: Populists have swallowed a neo-Marxist narrative.

 

2020 September 5

The Trump Malignancy

Jonathan Freedland

Donald Trump reportedly described US troops who died for their country as "losers" and "suckers" and demanded that a military parade exclude wounded veterans.
Close to 200,000 Americans are dead thanks to a pandemic that Trump refused to admit was happening. The US economy lies in tatters, racked by mass unemployment.
This week, Trump urged his supporters to vote early by mail-in ballot and then turn up in person on election day to vote again. He was urging them to break the law.
Earlier, Trump said postal voting was bound to lead to "the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT election in history" and suggested delaying the election.
Trump has installed a head of the US Postal Service who is gutting its ability to process mail-in ballots in time. And he's starving the service of cash.
Trump: "If they don't get those two items, that means you can't have universal mail-in voting because they're not equipped to have it."
The choice in the November 3 election is between democracy and autocracy.

AR QAnon: Where We Go One We Go All

 

Red Pill

Michael Gorra

The narrator of Hari Kunzru's sixth novel is a Brooklyn academic who has a nameless dread that "something profoundly but subtly wrong" is about to happen in the world. He is offered a fellowship at a Berlin think tank.
The think tank is on the Wannsee and looks across the water to the villa where the Nazis planned the Holocaust. The narrator quickly begins to see the study center as oppressive. When he makes a stand, he is ordered to leave immediately.
Just before leaving Berlin, the narrator meets Anton, who says those who can't take the truth about human life are squeamish. The narrator later stalks Anton on the web, into a territory of alt-right message boards and conspiracy theorists.
Kunzru is a shrewd observer of recent politics, as when the narrator lets one of the villa's cleaning staff, a former East German punk rocker, describe her experience of Stasi persecution.
Red Pill ends in November 2016.

AR I think I'll hold fire on this one.

 

Oxford #1

The Guardian

Oxford alumni dominate the cabinet, sit at the head of boardrooms, preside over courtrooms, and run newspapers. The university's success in placing its graduates in jobs has seen it unseat Cambridge in the Guardian University Guide for the first time since 2011.
Oxford vice-chancellor Louise Richardson: "It isn't just the outdated image of an ivory tower. This is an institution that is deeply engaged in the world. There is a real entrepreneurial culture here."

The Best Universities 2021
1  Oxford University
2  University of St Andrews
3  Cambridge University
4  Durham University
5  London School of Economics

AR With 3 degrees from Oxford and 1 from LSE, I'm cheered.

 

2020 September 4

Higher Category Theory

Emily Riehl

Editorial Introduction
In 1945, Samuel Eilenberg and Saunders Mac Lane proposed that mathematics needed to replace the notion of equality with the deeper idea of equivalence. They developed new mathematical structures that captured the many ways two things might be equivalent.
In higher category theory, mathematicians also think about equivalences between equivalences, and equivalences between equivalences between equivalences, and so on upward in an infinity category.
Emily Riehl and Dominic Verity are nearly finished writing a book on the foundations of infinity categories in mathematics.

ER When I was an undergraduate, I was really attracted to abstract algebra. I found the proofs really satisfying. I had the sense that the abstract things are somehow clearer to me than the more concrete things, because I was just more confident that I was understanding them correctly. Category theory is like that to the nth degree.
Over time, mathematicians have developed an increasingly flexible view of what it means for two objects to be the same. Two objects in a higher category should be considered the same when they are equivalent, which means seen as the same by all other objects in the higher category.
This book describes results from papers I've written together with Dominic Verity starting in 2012. We've been developing a new approach to the foundations of infinity category theory. Those foundations were developed by André Joyal and independently by Jacob Lurie.
Dom and I feel like our perspective is mature enough to rewrite the theorems in a more accessible form directed at somebody who's learning this stuff for the first time. We're trying to give a user-friendly rewrite of Lurie. The theorems are the same, but I think the new proofs are better.

AR I found Lurie's work too daunting. Perhaps Riehl and Verity can help me out.

 

2020 September 3

IIEA Keynote Address

Michel Barnier

We are now less than four months away from 1 January 2021. This is the date chosen by the UK for its economic and commercial Brexit, after the political Brexit in January 2020.
We have three major tasks for this year:
1 Negotiating our future partnership
I am worried and disappointed by the UK's lack of engagement on three points:
1.1 Since the start of these negotiations, the UK has refused to engage on credible guarantees for open and fair competition. A level playing field is the only way to start a new relationship between the EU and the UK on a firm and sustainable footing.
1.2 The UK has not shown any willingness to seek compromises on fisheries. The UK would lock out the fishermen of many countries from waters they fished in long before 1973. That is not acceptable. Without a solution on fisheries, there will be no new economic partnership with the UK.
1.3 The UK has been extremely reluctant to include any meaningful dispute settlement mechanisms in our future agreement.
On all these issues, we are simply asking to translate the political engagements taken in the Political Declaration into a legal text. Yet, on all these issues, the UK side continues to disappoint.
2 Implementing the Withdrawal Agreement
Before the end of the year, we need to ensure the full and effective implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. This is the only way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and preserve the all-island economy, it is the only way to preserve the integrity of the Single Market and all its guarantees, and it is a precondition for the EU and the UK to be able to forge a meaningful partnership built on trust.
3 Getting ready for changes at the end of the transition
On 1 January 2021, the UK will leave the Single Market, the Customs Union, all EU policies, and all of our international agreements. No trade agreement can change this.

AR This is tragic. Damn Bodger.

 

Bodger Flubs Again

John Crace

Boris Johnson is failing at being prime minister. In this week's Prime Minister's Questions session, Sir Keir Starmer asked a straight question on the exam chaos, but Boris resorted to bullshit and bluster in reply. Starmer is the one who looks fit to run the country.

PMQs 2020-09-02
Hansard

KS: Let me start today with the exam fiasco .. We learned yesterday that the education secretary knew well in advance that there was a problem with the algorithm .. When did the [PM] first know that there was a problem with the algorithm?
BJ As a result of what we learned about the tests .. we did act.
KS Let me ask again: when did the [PM] first know that there would be a problem with the algorithm?
BJ Ofqual made it absolutely clear .. All summer long, he has been going around undermining confidence and spreading doubts .. the parents, pupils, and teachers in this country are .. going back to school in record numbers, in spite of all the gloom and dubitation that he tried to spread.
KS The [PM] is just .. playing games .. fooling nobody. Even his own MPs have run out of patience .. [One] of his MPs .. said: "It's mess after mess, U-turn after U-turn .. It's a fundamental issue of competence, God knows what is going on. There's no grip." His own MPs are right, aren't they?
BJ This is a leader of the opposition who backed remaining in the EU and now is totally silent on the subject. Now he has performed a U-turn .. This is a leader of the opposition who supported an IRA-condoning politician who wanted to get out of NATO and now says absolutely nothing about it.
KS  I worked in Northern Ireland for five years with the police service of Northern Ireland, bringing peace .. I ask the [PM] to have the decency to withdraw that comment .. [T]he next major decision for the [PM] is on the furlough scheme .. will he act now?
BJ We are .. getting our pupils back to school .. and we are getting people back to work. What he wants to do is extend the furlough scheme .. we would rather .. get people into work.
KS I asked him to do the decent thing but doing the decent thing and this [PM] don't go together. This has been a wasted summer. The government .. have lurched from crisis to crisis, U-turn to U-turn .. [with] 12 U-turns and rising, the only conclusion is serial incompetence.

Provocatively poor
Henry Deedes

Boris Johnson was provocatively poor in the first PMQs of the new term. He hadn't done his holiday reading or even prepared any new gags.

AR Bodger: Roll back Brexit and resign.

 

2020 September 2

Dodecahedron News

Erica Klarreich

A trio of mathematicians has resolved a basic question about the dodecahedron: Suppose you stand at one of the corners of a Platonic solid. Is there a straight path you can take to return you to your starting point without passing through another corner?
For the cube, tetrahedron, octahedron, and icosahedron, the answer is no. For the dodecahedron, Jayadev Athreya, David Aulicino, and Patrick Hooper have shown there is an infinite number of such paths. Their solution required modern techniques and computer algorithms.
To understand straight paths on a Platonic solid, start by cutting open enough edges to make the solid lie flat, forming a net.
Flatten out the dodecahedron, walk along this flat shape, hit the edge of the net, hop to a different pentagon, and rotate by some multiple of π/5.
Alternatively, when we hit an edge of the net, glue on a rotated copy of the net, continue straight on, and add a new net whenever we reach the edge of our world.
When we have traveled through 10 nets, the next net we add has the same orientation as the first, related to it by a translation. We can glue the edge of the 10th net to the corresponding parallel edge in the original net. Gluing all such corresponding edges gives us a translation surface.
The translation surface is a representation of the dodecahedron with 10 copies of each pentagon and shaped like a torus with 81 holes. It also represents a double pentagon made by attaching 2 pentagons along a single edge and then gluing together parallel sides to create a torus with 2 holes and a rich collection of symmetries.
The trio used the symmetries to classify all the straight closed paths through a corner on a dodecahedron.

AR Wow — we can still say something new about the dodecahedron.

 

2020 September 1

A Global Hit

Tom Whipple

Several billion tons of plasma, thrown off by the Sun, whizzed past Earth in September 1859. The Carrington Event is now referenced on national risk registers. In 2015, the risk of solar storms was considered by the UK government committee SAGE.
University College London professor of disasters and health Ilan Kelman: "The possible consequences are immense. Anything which is not shielded, anything which cannot deal with sudden current fluctuations, could be damaged and potentially put out of service .. There could be trillions of pounds of immediate damage."
Solar storms happen regularly. Humans survive them just fine, but our electronic infrastructure is in jeopardy. Small solar storms have knocked out major grid transformers.
When the Sun blasts out a great glob of magnetic plasma, it does so asymmetrically. Coronal mass ejections spring out from the rotating Sun on a fixed trajectory. In 1859, a glob hit us square on. In 2012, we watched a similar eruption whizz past harmlessly.
First to arrive are the X-rays. They reach us in 8 minutes and interrupt HF communications. An hour later come the charged particles. They leave a trail of destruction among orbiting satellites and produce auroras in the upper atmosphere. Days later, the coronal mass ejection arrives.
Professor Kelman: "What are we going to be doing in that time? If we suddenly had three days' notice that all of the information and communication technologies are going to go down — that credit cards, debit cards, ATM machines, mobile phones are going to go down, what happens?"
Heads, the magnetic field of the plasma is oriented in the same direction as the Earth's and passes harmlessly by. Tails, it's not. Then the coronal mass ejection will hit and cause a catastrophic surge in power grids worldwide. The UK National Grid has a plan to reboot after a failure. The US grid is more vulnerable.

AR This is not the Sunfall scenario, but it's related.

 

Brain Implants

Moises Velasquez-Manoff

We are at the dawn of a new era where people control intelligent machines merely by thinking.
We can already use machine learning to read what a subject is viewing. A team showed volunteers in fMRI machines movie clips. By matching brain activation and images, an AI built a model of how the visual cortex worked. As the volunteers were shown movie clips, the model visualized what it thought they might be looking at. The patterns of brain activity were translated into moving images.
Advances in technology at the interface of flesh and machine are important, but the AI matters more. Trying to understand the brain from outside the skull is hard. A thinking cap needs to know what's happening in the nearly 100 billion neurons in the brain.
Implanted sensor arrays can let paralyzed patients move robotic arms or cursors on a screen just by thinking. The next step is to let them move a paralyzed arm or hand and regain sensation. A man paralyzed from the chest down had sensory information from a robotic arm into the part of his cortex for his hand and learned to feel a robotic hand as his own.
Neuralink is a brain-sensing tech that requires surgery, but it's thin, flexible, and can adjust to the hilly topography of the brain. It has hairlike filaments that sink into brain tissue. Each filament contains multiple sensors, allowing the capture of more data than flatter arrays on the brain surface. It can both read and write to the brain, and a robot assists with the implantation.
Nanotech sensors may be small enough to avoid an immune reaction. Neural dust could be powered by beams of microwaves or ultrasound from outside the skull. Smartphones could process data from chips and sensors around the body. Glasses and earbuds could give us a web interface.
One technology that can read and write to the brain uses genetic engineering. First, mice are infected with a virus that inserts two genes into their neurons. One prompts the cells to produce a protein that make them sensitive to infrared light; the other makes the neurons emit light when they activate. When the neurons fire, we see them light up and activate them with an infrared laser. We can both read the mouse brain and write to it and manipulate the mouse like a puppet.
Such brain technologies are fast approaching. We need to be prepared for them.

AR I predicted this in 2010.

 

Automating Math

Stephen Ornes

Set theorist Paul Cohen once predicted that all of mathematics could be automated. Computers are useful for big calculations, but proofs often require complicated creative thinking. Can a system generate an interesting conjecture and prove it in a way that people understand?
Fields medalist Timothy Gowers sees theorem provers replacing human referees at major journals. They offer a way to keep the field honest by checking proofs. They can also be useful teaching tools in computer science and mathematics.
A group at Google Research sees the challenge of automating proofs as a subset of natural language processing. The group wants to capitalize on recent advances in language recognition to use neural networks to generate new proofs. The neural net could learn to understand what a proof looks like.
No one knows whether these efforts will fulfill Cohen's prophecy. Gowers predicts mathematicians will enjoy a kind of golden age, when mathematicians do all the fun parts and computers do all the boring parts: "But I think it will last a very short time."

AR I predicted this in 1989.

 

Bournemouth beach 1944
FB
Bournemouth beach, August Bank Holiday 1944

Gazprom

First regime change,
then gas deal?

Brexit

Bapa
Bapa

Melania Trump
Melania Trump
Republican authoritarian
threat signal

Ed Davey
LD
Sir Ed, new face

Climate Crisis and
Why We Should Panic

Extinction Rebellion
Narrated by Keira Knightley

Leading scientists warn that
we have entered a state of
planetary emergency and
face the prospect of
societal collapse.

Men Who Hate Women

Chantel Jeffries
Chantel Jeffries
Not a tank

HAAR
click2expand
Bournemouth, Sunday

Boris
Daily Mail
BoJo on a camping holiday
with Carrie at a remote
clifftop site in Scotland

The Bridge
cc
The Øresund Bridge connects
Sweden and Denmark by road
and rail. It runs 8 km from
the Swedish coast to this island
and 4 km by tunnel to a Danish
island. The tunnel leaves a
clear waterway for ships.

 

2020 August Bank Holiday

American Collapse

Andrew Sullivan

It has finally happened in America. We have lethal battles in the streets between the two tribes of our polarized politics.
Rioting and lawlessness are evil. Any civil authority that permits it disqualifies itself from legitimacy. If liberals do not defend order, fascists will.
The fanatics are self-righteous, entitled bigots, chanting slogans rooted in claptrap. Democrats are too cowardly and intimidated to call them out and expel them.
President Trump has shown a cavalier and cynical attitude to urban unrest. But as he was eulogizing a murdered policeman, the leftist mob outside was in the midst of a "Fuck the police" demo. If the Dems want to fight an election on that choice, they're engaged on a suicide mission.
As in the Weimar republic, armed gangs of far right and far left are at war on the streets, an economic crisis has led to mass unemployment, psychological disorders are unleashed by a long period of lockdown, liberals are failing to defend the values of liberal democracy, and conservatives are failing to silence demagogues and bigots.
What most people want in that kind of instability is a figure who will come in and stamp it out. Trump would happily do so.

AR Sad: Recall what Sullivan said four years ago (blog 2016-11-09).

 

UK: Back to the 70s

Financial Times

Former UK chancellor Philip Hammond says Britain risks being on "a fast track back to the misery of the 1970s" unless the government adopts clearly defined post-Brexit state aid rules.
The prime minister has so far failed to say how Britain will control subsidies after the end of the transition period on December 31. EU officials fear the UK will use state support to give companies an unfair advantage.
Talks on a UK/EU trade deal have stalled. French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian: "Negotiations are not advancing due to the intransigent and frankly unrealistic attitude of the UK."

AR Bodger is the worst PM the UK has ever had.

 

Europe vs Russia

Juliane von Mittelstaedt

Alexei Navalny is fighting for his life in a Berlin hospital. We may never know whether Vladimir Putin commissioned his poisoning. But the case only confirms his destructive effect in world politics.
The German government is treating Navalny as a humanitarian case. But his admission into Berlin was a political act, and the government must now live up to it.
Putin is concerned about what is happening in Minsk. He sees Belarus not as a foreign country but as a Russian province. Navalny supported the demonstrators in Belarus.
In Siberia, citizens voted out Putin's party and took to the streets after the arrest of their governor. A similar vote looms next month in Novosibirsk, where Navalny campaigned shortly before he was poisoned.
The Putin regime cannot be restrained with warnings or with trade. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline project benefits it both financially and geopolitically, alienating not only European partners but also Trump America.
The federal government should insist the EU speaks with one voice on Russia. No more projects like NS2 but a firm and united front: The EU must show it is serious.

AR The Putin regime has gone bad.

 

Europe vs America

Simon Tisdall

Republican senators are threatening to punish Germany over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. They say it poses a "grave threat" to US security and are ready to impose "crushing" sanctions.
The Trump administration has long opposed NS2, arguing it will increase European dependence on Russia. The intervention of the senators has turned the issue into another major US−Europe confrontation.
The reaction in Germany is predictably furious. Chancellor Angela Merkel's relations with Donald Trump were already icy after years of presidential insults. The new row risks rekindling broader European resentment.
President Trump seems in thrall Russian president Vladimir Putin. If Trump triumphs again in November, Europeans can expect more sanctions, selfish stupidity, and brutishness where US foreign policy used to be.
Such a nightmare is a compelling argument for strengthening Europe to defend its geopolitical interests. Europeans must stand together.

AR The UK — with a new prime minister — must stand with them.

 

2020 August 30

Shock Poll: Tory Fury

Toby Helm

Boris Johnson is facing a showdown with furious Conservative MPs over his government's chaotic handling of the coronavirus crisis.
The 1922 committee vice-chair Charles Walker says a recent string of U-turns have left many colleagues in despair, with some struggling to support and defend their government to constituents.
Walker: "Too often it looks like this government licks its finger and sticks it in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. This is not a sustainable way to approach the business of governing and government."
Many think Johnson and his ministers have lost their grip. They are angry that Tory MPs and senior Whitehall officials are being ignored as power is centred on Dominic Cummings in Downing Street.
A new Opinium poll shows Labour is now level with the Tories for the first time since last summer, before Johnson was leader.

Boris Johnson
Jonathan Lis

Boris Johnson emerged from his holiday not to tackle the exam results crisis but to joke about it: "I'm afraid your grades were almost derailed by a mutant algorithm."
In June, he spoke from Downing Street about a prospective trade deal with Australia: "How long can the British people be deprived of the opportunity to have Arnott's Tim Tams at a reasonable price?"
Confronted with crisis or grief, Johnson lacks the tone or depth to respond with anything other than jokes. He thinks he will charm the discomfort away.
Brexit is a game to accommodate his personal interest and whim. It works by a series of arbitrary deadlines: 31 October for Brexit last year, 31 December for the deal this year. He sees it as a gameshow challenge to beat the clock.
For Johnson, Brexit is like an exam. If he gets a failing grade, he will blame someone else. For him, failure need only be outrageous and unprecedented. It is not the job that matters, but how he feels at the end of it. He is solipsistic enough to botch a crisis or destroy a nation not for political gain but for personal sport.
Bodger isn't on the job in any meaningful way even when he shows up to meetings. For him, it is all a game where the UK is there to serve his ego.

AR Sack Bodger and Dom now.

 

2020 August 29

Bapa

The Times

His Divine Holiness Acharya Shree Purushottampriyadasji Swamishree Maharaj saw everyone as equal. He made it his mission to donate food and clothes, build schools, and provide equipment to enable people to earn a living.
For more than 40 years, he travelled the world visiting care homes, hospitals, and the houses of his followers. His teachings on the importance of the natural environment inspired the building in 2014 of an eco-temple in north London.
Acharya Swamishree Maharaj was born in 1942 in Gujarat. As a child he met his guru, Jeevanpran Shree Muktajeevan Swamibapa, who told his father: "He is mine and will always be mine."
In 1962, his guru initiated him as a sant and named him Swami Purushottampriyadasji. To his followers he was known as Bapa, father.
Bapa's mantra: society before self

AR I like these Indian holy men.

 

Tenet

Philip Ball

Christopher Nolan's new movie Tenet does some fancy origami with space and time. The plot revolves around a device that switches the direction of time by treating objects by a process that reverses their entropy.
This process was discovered in the future. A Russian oligarch arms dealer, entrusted with an algorithm for reversing entropy, is intent on setting it off using plutonium to create the collision of time flows that will bring about the end of everything. His wife doesn't love him, and he wants to take the world with him when he dies. The Protagonist then saves time.
Entropy measures the number of ways a lot of molecules in a gas can be arranged yet look the same. There are far more ways of arranging them into a high-entropy state than a low-entropy one, so they are likely to end up with higher entropy. The only way to lower entropy is to control probability.
Entropy creates the arrow of time. The second law of thermodynamics says that any change in the universe has to increase its total entropy. Entropy can decrease locally so long as it increases in the surroundings. You can buy a little order so long as you pay it back with disorder elsewhere, as all living organisms do.
Time travel became a popular topic of conversation after Albert Einstein published his theory of relativity. Any backward time travel traps you in paradoxical loops (or movie plots) where the ends don't match up.

AR Tenet sounds utterly incoherent.

 

2020 August 28

Four More Years?

The New York Times

Donald Trump on why he wants a second term as POTUS: "But so I think, I think it would be, I think it would be very, very, I think we'd have a very, very solid, we would continue what we're doing, we'd solidify what we've done, and we have other things on our plate that we want to get done."

AR US voters: Please say no.

 

The End of American Democracy?

Thomas B. Edsall

To earn membership in a group, you must signal that you support it over rival groups. Trump is sending signals affirming his membership in the populist right wing of the Republican Party. He is cutting himself off from liberals.
The Republican Party is the home of white evangelical Christians and residents of middle America who see their privilege under assault. Many now support calls for an exclusionary moral community of virtue at the expense of democracy.
American citizens are not principled about democracy. When they perceive their social position as threatened, and when trusted elites use narratives of group threat, group members become vulnerable to authoritarian leaders.
Polarization and partisanship raise public perceptions that opponents pose a threat. Democracy is endangered when these perceptions of threat open the door to undemocratic behavior by an incumbent to stay in power.
Public disapproval is supposed to curb temptations to subvert democracy. But when voters are forced to make a choice between partisan loyalty and standing on principle, the vast majority choose partisan loyalty.
Opportunities to subvert the democratic process are now asymmetric. American political geography and demographic patterns offer the easiest ways to gain an unfair advantage only to Republicans.

AR The threat is Republican authoritarianism.

 

Mutant Algorithms?

Simon Jenkins

Boris Johnson blamed a "mutant" algorithm for the A-levels fiasco this week. Ministers were warned what would happen if they let a machine revise A-level ranking. They ordered the machine to avoid grade inflation, and it obeyed.
A similarly "mutant" algorithm has apparently seized Johnson's now obsessively centralised housing policy, threatening to build over miles of Tory countryside. Lobbyists told the algorithm to follow the market, and again it obeyed.
Algorithms cannot be accused of conspiring to undermine the government of the day. Their coders were struggling to infer the objectives of a leaderless government that constantly changes its mind. The prime minister is the mutant.
An old maxim holds that leaders be judged not by their brilliance but by the quality of those around them. Their court is their first line of defence against the daily bombardment of advice and pressure. Under Johnson that court is composed of a tiny group of cronies.
Britain faces a decision over how to agree frictionless dealings with its trading neighbours in Europe. No one near Downing Street is remotely up to the challenge.

AR The mutation is in UK political culture.

 

2020 August 27

AI Top Dog

New Scientist

An AI pilot has defeated a human 5-0 in virtual air-to-air combat.
In trials staged by DARPA, simulated F-16 fighter aircraft were controlled by artificial intelligence. The machine championship was won by a Heron Systems AI based on deep reinforcement learning. The AI then took on a human F-16 pilot and won every time.
The DARPA Air Combat Evolution project envisages future pilots with autonomous drones flying alongside them or AI taking over when the pilot selects targets.
The AI can already turn retired USAF F-16s converted for remote control into autonomous dogfighters. But in modern air combat, most engagements are decided using missiles, and dogfighting with guns is a last resort.
USAF is committed to maintaining human control over lethal systems to ensure responsibility and to prevent unwanted engagements.

AR The first aggressor to unleash autonomous AI systems will win.

 

Germany Scraps Brexit Plan

Jennifer Rankin

Germany has scrapped plans to discuss Brexit at a meeting of EU ambassadors on 2 September because talks have made no tangible progress.
An EU diplomat: "More and more people have come to the conclusion that Brexit ideology trumps Brexit pragmatism in the UK government."
EU officials now believe the UK government is prepared to risk a no-deal exit on 31 December and will try to blame Brussels.
An EU official: "We have had the whole summer completely wasted."

AR Fire Boris now. Impose martial law.

 

Hegel, 250 Years On

Philip Oltermann

In 1807, aged 36, George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel had chucked in an unpaid academic post and accepted a job as an editor at a local newspaper. Friends who tried to read his new magnum opus, Phänomenologie des Geistes, found it hard going. It still is.
Sebastian Ostritsch, author of Hegel: The World Philosopher: "What surprised and pleased me alike during my research was that Hegel had a very meandering, nonlinear CV."
Klaus Vieweg, author of Hegel: Der Philosoph der Freiheit: "Hegel was an optimist, but never a wide-eyed optimist. After the French Revolution, he was convinced that the idea of freedom could be put into people's heads, but he never believed that would inevitably lead to a freer society."
Andreas Rosenfelder, author in Die Welt: "The present age looks like an open war between reason and reality. In the Hegelian year of 2020, this contrast is brought into sharper relief .. The world is slowly going mad."
Hegel called his method of thinking dialectics. It is effective against such madness.

AR Hegel is the philosopher who has meant the most to me. Now in its sixth draft, my new magnum opus ALBION is much easier going than his was.

 

2020 August 26

Trump's Big Mistake

Thomas L. Friedman

Donald Trump made a big mistake by failing to partner with Germany to counter China. The Cold War with the Soviet Union was won in Berlin. A trade war with China will be won in Berlin.
Either the United States or China will leverage the EU on its side in the competition for whose standards, trade rules, and technology will prevail for global digital commerce in this century. America will lose if it acts alone against China with the goal of making America great again.
Instead of bashing both China and Germany, Trump should have prioritized a partnership with the German chancellor. Germany has a small army that would be useless in a shooting war against Russia, but it is a manufacturing superpower that would be a decisive ally in a trade war against China.
EU countries are wary of getting caught in the crossfire between Washington and Beijing. But the EU calls China a systemic rival. The smart move is to build a US-German alliance.

AR A correct analysis, imho.

 

Lightning, Typhoon, Tempest

The Times

The UK may buy only half its target of 138 F-35B Lightning II fighter jets, following the defence review by Dominic Cummings.
The UK has contracted to buy 48 of the US-built jets by the end of 2025 for £9.1 billion. Royal Navy QE class carriers will deploy with 12 to 36 F-35Bs on board, depending on the operation. Military chiefs are discussing 70 F-35s as a credible minimum total order.
RAF Typhoon jets will continue in service until the UK-led Tempest fighter jet program matures. Tempest is due to come into service from 2035 and is designed to allow optional remote operation as a drone. Tempest investment so far is £2 billion.
Justin Bronk: "The overall capability is likely to be behind what the Americans are producing at a similar point."

AR Scrap Tempest.

 

Men Who Hate Women

Laura Bates

Men going their own way (MGTOW) aim to mobilize the manosphere against a supposed gynocratic conspiracy.
The online movement says the modern man preserves and protects his own sovereignty above all else. By shaking women off and going monk, men will be free to pursue ever higher achievements.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, men in offices declined meetings with women or insisted on leaving the door open. They canceled business lunches and avoided female colleagues.
In the White House, VP Mike Pence has a rule never to eat a meal alone with a woman who is not his wife.
Randall Bentwick: "Every man in America could stand to learn .. from our vice-president."

AR A poor response to a tricky political balance.

 

2020 August 25

The Bodyguard

The Times

President Donald Trump was feted at the first night of the Republican National Convention.
Black North Carolina senator Tim Scott, 54: "Joe Biden and Kamala Harris want a cultural revolution .. If we let them, they will turn our country into a socialist utopia."
Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, 26: "Trump is the bodyguard of Western civilization .. President Trump was elected to defend the American way of life."
Former US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, 48: "Joe Biden and the socialist left would be a disaster for our economy."
Donald Trump Jr, 42: "Joe Biden is basically the Loch Ness monster of the swamp."

AR Bodyguard of bigotry

 

Scrap British Tanks

The Times

In a UK government policy review due to conclude in November, Dominic Cummings plans to scrap British army tanks.
The British Army main battle tank, the Challenger 2, has been in service without a major upgrade since 1998. The 227 tanks are now obsolete and the cost of upgrading them is prohibitive. One option is to mothball them and buy German Leopard 2 tanks.
The new plan is to focus on taking a leadership role in attack aviation, offering all 50 Apache helicopters to NATO allies. Britain would also offer brigades for early entry into theatre as well as cyber, electronic, and unconventional warfare capabilities.
Ministry of Defence spokesman: "Our commitment to NATO is unwavering, and the UK recognises that as a global military power our greatest strength remains our alliances."

Tanks
Max Hastings

Winston Churchill introduced land battleships in WW1. Tanks are still valued by most armies but are expensive and vulnerable to air power. No one should be sentimental about weapons of war.

AR Focus on air, rely on NATO.

 

2020 August 24

Dossier of Doom

Claire Ellicott

The Cabinet Office EU transition taskforce has presented an Official Sensitive dossier to UK ministers and officials with the title:
Preliminary set of Reasonable Worst Case Scenario Planning Assumptions to support civil contingencies planning for the end of the Transition Period
The dossier warns that a second wave of the coronavirus coupled with flu, severe flooding, and an unruly exit from the EU transition period could cause a systemic economic crisis with major impact on disposable incomes, unemployment, business activity, international trade and market stability.
Some of the planning assumptions:
 Social distancing and masks will continue into 2021. NHS hospitals could be overwhelmed by a
    combined flu epidemic and Covid-19 second wave.
 Animal disease might rip through the countryside due to shortages of medicines.
 Inflation could hit social care providers: 1 in 20 town halls could go bust and need bailing out.
 Goods crossing the Channel will face mandatory controls from day one. Supplies of food, fuel,
    and medicines will be under threat if queues of lorries block Dover.
 Blockages at Dover could trigger water rationing and power cuts.
 Mass social unrest may require troops to be drafted on to the streets to help the police.
 Navy warships might be needed to stop British fishermen clashing with hundreds of illegal
    European fishing boat incursions.
 Gibraltar could be cut off from Spain and need emergency support.
 The Channel Islands may need airdrops of food and medicines.

AR Memo to Boris: Enough already. Call off this farce.

 

2020 August 23

Global Heating

Robin McKie

Scientists say 28 trillion tons of ice on Earth has melted since 1994. This is enough to cover the UK with a layer 100 m thick.
About half of the lost ice was from floating ice that left sea levels unchanged. The rest of the melt added to sea level rise. The rise could reach 1 m by the end of the century and displace around 100 million people from their homes.
The level of ice loss matches the worst-case scenario of the IPCC.

AR This is our biggest global emergency.

 

Chinese Communism

CNN

Cai Xia taught at the Communist Party of China's Central Party School until she retired in 2012. Then she began to denounce the ruling elite and new leader Xi Jinping, who came into power in 2012.
Cai: "The relationship between China and the United States is not a conflict between the two peoples, but a contest and confrontation between two systems and two ideologies."
Cai now lives in the United States and was expelled from the Party last week. She had a strict Party upbringing and joined Red Guards in Tiananmen Square to greet Chairman Mao Zedong in 1966.
Cai: "I've always been on alert that our country cannot return to that era. Since Xi came to power, however, his language, ideas, and actions are all harking back to the Cultural Revolution."

AR Xi is not Mao and Putin is not Stalin.

 

Brexit Bravado

Tim Shipman

EU officials seem to think they have Boris Johnson on the run. They misunderstand the worldview of his government.
Johnson and his Brexit negotiator David Frost want a free trade deal, but they would rather accept tariffs than a level playing field. EU officials say Johnson has a big enough majority to compromise, but ERG hardliners and new MPs want a hard Brexit and could topple the government to get it.
Former UK ambassador to the EU Sir Ivan Rogers thinks no deal is likelier than not.

AR What a frustrating mess.

 

2020 August 22

Dems 4 Joe

Demetri Sevastopulo, Lauren Fedor

Joe Biden accepted the Democratic presidential nomination on the final night of the Democratic National Convention. The man Donald Trump dubs "Slow Joe" delivered a speech that many said was the best of his five decades in politics.
Fox News anchor Chris Wallace: "After tonight, Donald Trump will have to run against a candidate, not a caricature."
Joe Biden: "I will be an ally of the light, not of the darkness."

AR Go, Joe — Thump Trump!

 

Chairman Boris

Sebastian Payne

Senior Conservatives say Boris Johnson must reset his management style. Key ministers do not have a grip on their portfolios. The prime minister is on holiday in Scotland and is not bowing to pressure to sack his education secretary Gavin Williamson.
Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin: "I'm concerned that there's a sort of a pattern setting in under this government that something goes wrong and it's the permanent secretary's fault or it is some public body's fault but it's never the government's fault."
The prime minister's management style is to be more of a chairman than a chief executive. He lets cabinet ministers lead on their respective policy areas.
A senior backbench MP: "Boris has to get a grip on his government .. only he has the authority to sort this mess out."

Boris is a loner
Paul Goodman

Boris Johnson has never had much to do with most of his fellow Conservative MPs and is a stranger to their habits and culture.
His instinct will be to shrug off the collapse of the government position this week. He is carrying on where he left off after delivering Brexit.
His cabinet is widely dismissed as weak. He lacks someone in Downing Street who can fix problems and calm troubled waters.

AR He selects a cabinet of weaklings and sycophants and then delegates all the decisions to it —
this is a recipe for repeated and potentially catastrophic failure.

 

Sweden

Dominic Sandbrook

Sweden stood alone in Europe in refusing to institute lockdown. State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said mandatory lockdown was a waste of time: People should be sensible, wash their hands, avoid public transport, and keep a safe distance; other countries had panicked.
When I landed in Stockholm, their death rate stood at almost 57 per 100,000 people, better than Belgium (87), Spain (62), Britain (62), and Italy (58). I asked Swedes what they thought. Without exception, they were glad to have escaped lockdown.

AR Maybe Swedes were right.

 

2020 August 21

Steve Bannon Arrested

The New York Times

Steve Bannon was charged on Thursday with defrauding donors to the private fundraising effort
We Build the Wall.
Federal prosecutors say Bannon and others conspired to cheat hundreds of thousands of donors by falsely promising that their money was solely for building a border wall. Bannon is said to have taken nearly $1 million to pay off his personal expenses.
Bannon was arrested on a $35 million yacht owned by a Chinese billionaire sailing off Connecticut and is now in custody in New York charged with federal crimes.
After the charges were announced, Donald Trump told reporters in the Oval Office: "I feel very badly .. I haven't been dealing with him for a very long period of time .. I don't like that project. I thought it was being done for showboating reasons."
Bannon was Trump's campaign manager in 2016. He resigned as Trump's chief strategist in 2017.

AR More sleaze around a corrupt president.

 

UK Wasting Time

Jennifer Rankin

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier: "Frankly, I am disappointed .. Too often this week it felt as if we were going backwards more than forwards .. I simply do not understand why we are wasting valuable time."
UK chief negotiator David Frost: "Agreement is still possible, and it is still our goal, but it is clear that it will not be easy to achieve .. there has been little progress .. Time is short for both sides."
Barnier: "We have made no progress whatsoever on the issues that matter."
This was the seventh round of talks to meet an October deadline.

AR No surrender — will the UK hit the rocks in 2021?

 

UK Public Debt

Financial Times

UK government debt exceeds £2 trillion for the first time ever in peacetime. It is now higher than GDP. The figures are likely to be revised as the government works out what it has spent and how much money it has collected.

AR No cheer — will the UK ever be rich again?

 

Grokking Feynman Diagrams

Charlie Wood

Particle physicists trying to model experiments confront an infinitely long equation. They generate approximate predictions by cutting the calculation short. So far, these match observations, but this need not continue as measurements grow more precise.
Pierpaolo Mastrolia and Sebastian Mizera (MM), with others, find a pattern in the equations that provides a new way of collapsing an infinity of terms into just dozens of key parts. This may improve predictive accuracy.
Feynman diagrams are cartoons for equations that give the probability that an event is real. But in quantum theory we consider all possibilities, so a full accounting demands an infinite number of diagrams. We improve precision by going further into infinity.
Zooming in to virtual particles in closed loops adds further infinities. To handle them we use integrals, but these are monstrous for multi-loop Feynman diagrams. We have algorithms for 0-loop and 1-loop scenarios, but many 2-loop collisions are too much.
Fortunately, we can reduce thousands of integrals to a few master integrals and form a weighted sum. But exactly how is a hard problem. We use computers to make guesses and find the combinations of integrals that matter.
MM use intersection numbers to pick out what we need for the integrals. They translate Feynman diagrams into geometric spaces amenable to analysis in cohomology theories from algebraic topology. But the spaces for most Feynman diagrams are warped in a tricky way.
MM introduce twisted cohomology to represent families of physical scenarios as geometric spaces. The twisted cohomology of a space tells us how many master integrals to expect and what their weights are. The weights emerge as intersection numbers.
In the end, thousands of integrals shrink to a weighted sum of dozens of master integrals. The approach may help us get a new take on reality.

AR Heavy stuff, but worth it.

 

Kamala Harris
⦿ Olivier Douliery/AFP
Kamala Harris: "I accept your nomination for vice-president of the United States of America."

Rita Ora
Rita Ora
Reminder of summer

Kendall Jenner
Kendall Jenner
A fine identity

 

2020 August 20

Joe and Kamala

Barack Obama

I have sat in the Oval Office with both of the men who are running for president. I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies. I did hope that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously, but he never did.
Let me tell you about my friend Joe Biden. Joe and I came from different places and different generations. But I quickly came to admire his resilience and his empathy. He made me a better president, and he's got the character and the experience to make us a better country.
And in my friend Kamala Harris, he's chosen an ideal partner who knows what it's like to overcome barriers and who's made a career fighting to help others live out their own American dream.
Joe and Kamala will turn their vision into reality. They'll get this pandemic under control, expand health care to more Americans, rescue the economy, and restore our standing in the world.
The present administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that's what it takes to win. We have to get busy building it up — by voting for Joe and Kamala.

AR They'd get my vote if I had one.

QAnon

The Guardian

Donald Trump on QAnon: "I don't know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate. .. These are people that don't like seeing what's going on in places like Portland and places like Chicago and New York and other cities and states. I've heard these are people that love our country .. We're saving the world from a radical left philosophy that will destroy this country and, when this country is gone, the rest of the world will follow."
Former Obama NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor: "This QAnon answer is a fucking disgrace. It's a death cult. The FBI identified QAnon as a violent domestic terrorism threat and Trump is pretending not to know what it is while absolutely encouraging them and incentivizing more insane behavior."
Shorenstein Center research director Joan Donovan: "People should realize that QAnon isn't just this outlandish conspiracy theory about child-trafficking and satanism. It is .. driven by tropes about Jewish people and the one world government narrative."

AR Trump will try to drag us all down.

English Land

George Monbiot

England has a long tradition of seizing a common good and giving it to the rich and powerful. English law protects property rights and the inordinate privileges of owners of large tracts of land. The freedom to walk is denied across 92% of the land in England.
Access to land is critical to our mental and physical wellbeing. Yet the government proposes to criminalize trespass. We will be denied access to anywhere but a few green cages and places we must pay to enter, while vast estates are reserved for single families to enjoy.
The government proposes to award blanket planning permission to landowners and builders of across great tracts of England. Property tycoons have reportedly donated £11 million to the Conservative party since Boris Johnson became prime minister.

AR The UK is a medieval relic. I had wider freedom to roam in Germany.

 

2020 August 19

Big Apple

Financial Times

Apple has hit a $2 trillion market capitalization, barely 24 months after it became the world's first trillion-dollar company. Apple is the first US company to achieve such a valuation on the public markets and only the second in the world to do so. Saudi Aramco briefly hit the milestone last December, on the day after its IPO, but its shares then closed lower. Now its market valuation is around $1.8 trillion, which Apple surpassed in July.
Apple CEO Tim Cook: "We do not have a zero sum approach to prosperity, and especially in times like this, we're focused on growing the pie, making sure our success isn't just our success, and that everything we make, build or do is geared toward creating opportunities for others."

AR Tempted by an iPhone.

Rethinking Identity

Laurent Dubreuil

American academia is a hotbed of proliferating identities. Race, gender, and sexual orientation were the three main dimensions of early identity politics. But affirmed identities are mushrooming.
Under this regime, identities, once affirmed, are indisputable. If you disagree with me, you may trace everything I say back to my identity before you argue back. Such identities are not emancipatory.
Identity politics as now practiced does not put an end to racism, sexism, or other sorts of exclusion or exploitation. Identity determinism has instead become an additional layer of oppression.
American academia tends to cater to the perceived needs of its customers. In colleges, this may begin with the exclusion of dissenting voices under the pretext of protecting certain identity groups.
It is hard to determine whether most professors, students, and administrators sincerely subscribe to current identity politics. If so much is put off limits, we can no longer have a free debate.
The free pursuit of knowledge cannot be an afterthought. No university worthy of the name should urge people to hide behind their identities.

AR Indeed — quite a conundrum.

Rethinking Gravity

Claudia de Rham

After the Big Bang, the universe expanded and cooled down, but its expansion is speeding up. This is where we invoke dark energy.
A mysterious source of energy accelerates the expansion of the universe. But its energy density is ridiculously small. A tiny change makes a huge change to how the universe evolved. We need to reinvestigate every assumption we made here.
You can think about changing Einstein's equations of general relativity in two ways. The right-hand side describes the contents of the universe. On the left-hand side, the metric tensor describes the curvature of spacetime.
Adding dark energy is adding new stuff to the right-hand side. But this just math, with no new insight. We can try to go back to the roots of problem by exploring the nature of gravity.
In general relativity, you think of the graviton as a massless particle, and so the force of gravity has an infinite range. A massive graviton means that somehow gravity switches off at very large distances.
Out of the laws of general relativity come black holes. When two black holes or neutron stars merge, they rotate around each other faster and faster as they get closer. They make gravitational waves whose frequency gets higher as they merge.
In general relativity, the waves should travel at the same speed no matter what the frequency. For massive gravity, the speed of the gravitational wave depends on the frequency. We can test this.
LIGO results already show the graviton mass must be less than 1 zepto-electronvolt.

AR OK, let's see if m(g) < 1 zeV works.

 

Zeroliq
⦿ Gordon Welters / DER SPIEGEL
Barbesitzerin Korsun, Berlin

Shitshow

HOT
NWS: Sunday afternoon,
Death Valley, California,
highest temperature
recorded on Earth
for over 100 years:
54.4 C

Lukashenko, Putin
REUTERS
Lukashenko, Putin

"Donald Trump's ineffective
leadership gravely worsened
the crisis that we are in and
he is now taking advantage
of it to subvert and destroy
our right to vote ..
He's chosen to blatantly
cheat and put millions of
Americans' lives at risk
in an effort to hold
on to power."
Taylor Swift

VJ Day

Birkenstock
BIRKENSTOCK

Betelgeuse
⦿ M. Kornmesser/Hubble

 

2020 August 18

Kein Alkohol

Christopher Piltz

Slavena Korsun hat eine Bar eröffnet. Ihr Konzept kann man als radikal bezeichnen — alle Drinks seien ohne Alkohol. Der Name der Kneipe: Zeroliq
Besonders Bier findet in der alkoholfreien Variante immer stärkeren Absatz. Es gehört zu den an den stärksten wachsenden Segmenten im Biermarkt.
In Deutschland gibt es zurzeit mehr als 500 Marken, die alkoholfrei gebraut werden. Gerade Kleinbrauer entdecken das neue Feld für sich.

AR Finde ich gut — besonders Clausthaler Unfiltered.

Shitshow

Katy Balls

UK education secretary Gavin Williamson: "This is it — no U-turn, no change."
Faced with a growing Tory rebellion, protesting students, and a Labour party on the attack, Williamson has been forced to do exactly what he promised not to: School students in England will now get grades based on teacher assessments.
Criticism comes back to the previous government failure to get pupils back in the classroom before the summer holidays. There is no easy way of awarding exam grades without exams. The Ofqual algorithm was not perfect.
This is a damaging incident for the Conservative party as a whole. The party has long aimed to run on the idea that it will support hard work and potential, no matter where you are from or your background.
A government minister: "The past few months have been a shitshow."

AR I couldn't have said it better.

 

2020 August 17

The Next Pandemic

Stephen Emmott

The coronavirus pandemic is a very small glimpse — thankfully not as severe as it could be — into a potential and likely future. The next pandemic could kill a billion people.
A range of novel plant pathogens has the potential to destroy much of the world's food supply. The consequences of that on political stability and forced migration are unknowable and probably unprecedented.
We are largely failing to understand the impact of our behaviour collectively on our future selves and on the environment and ecology on which we and many other species depend.
Ninety per cent of everything we consume gets shipped around the world. That has a tremendous ecological impact, let alone digging stuff out of the ground, and the vast majority of it is stuff we don't even need.
Enlightenment or enjoyment in life doesn't have to involve consuming something or getting in your car or going to Oxford Street every week.
There should be no such thing as human rights. There should be a charter of human responsibilities. We have collective responsibilities to each other and to other species we share the planet with.

AR Doomster or Truther?

Belarus

Tom Parfitt

As protests grow against an apparently rigged election result in Belarus, the main question is whether Russia will rescue Alexander Lukashenko.
President Putin offered him a pledge of security assistance. But the Kremlin said only that it was important to prevent destructive forces from damaging bilateral ties.
Russia and Belarus have a symbolic union state, set up in 1996. Moscow wants greater integration to preserve its influence over a buffer state on the borders of NATO.
Military intervention is one option. Putin says Russia is ready to honor a defense pact to help Belarus. But the flower-waving protesters in Minsk are different from the battle-ready Ukrainians manning barricades in Kiev in 2014.
The protests in Minsk are about internal tyranny, not Kremlin intervention. Putin may opt for dialog with a new government in Minsk.

AR Putin can make peace in Minsk.

 

2020 August 16

UK Government Betrays Young People

The Observer

Children and young people will suffer from this pandemic.
From its botched reopening of schools, to its abject failure to provide structured activities for children who have missed out on school, to its lack of solutions for young people starting university or trying to get a first job, this government has consistently shown a lack of interest in minimising the scars this pandemic will leave on a generation.
The fiasco over the allocation of A-level grades is the latest episode to illustrate its callous disregard. A process for assigning grades to young people who have been out of school for months has been made trickier by the move from coursework and tests toward a heavier reliance on final exams.
Ofqual should have allowed for grade inflation and implemented a robust moderation system in good time for university applications. Instead, it relied on a crude and rigid algorithm that produced deeply unfair anomalies.
The government must ensure that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are not held back, it must work up a fair and timely appeals system, and it should reduce the crudeness of the algorithm.
Boris Johnson will be held to account for his inaction.

AR Get Bodger of out Number 10.

Global Waves

Charlie Wood

The atmosphere defies weather forecasters. But centuries ago, Pierre-Simon Laplace calculated that periodic pressure waves would sweep around the globe.
He imagined the atmosphere as a thin fluid on a smooth sphere. The waves arise when solar-powered weather feeds energy into resonant normal modes. The simplest mode raises the pressure in one hemisphere and lowers it in the other. More energetic modes create checkered patterns of smaller zones of high and low pressure that circle the globe at high speeds.
Last year, the ECMWF released the data set ERA5 of readings from thousands of ground stations, weather balloons, and satellites, using weather models to fill in the blanks and simulate a global network of weather stations spaced every 10 km and taking readings every hour from 1979 to 2016.
Takatoshi Sakazaki and Kevin Hamilton used ERA5 to examine atmospheric circulation on global scales and high frequencies. They found the spectrum of surface pressure shows a typical background spectrum with a number of isolated peaks. Some peaks represent astronomically forced tides, but most peaks show the ringing of randomly excited global resonant modes, as Laplace had predicted.
All this is good for global climate and weather models.

AR Well done, Laplace.

 

2020 August 15

VJ Day

HM Government

Today is the 75th anniversary of VJ [Victory over Japan] Day, commemorating the end of WW2.

The Magicians

Jonathan Rée

Wolfram Eilenberger offers a group portrait of four brilliant young philosophers in the aftermath of WW1: Martin Heidegger, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Cassirer, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Wittgenstein and Heidegger are now the patrons of two philosophical tribes who are barely on speaking terms. Benjamin has only a few followers, and Cassirer seems to have none at all.
Cassirer was a bold and original thinker. His work was rooted in Immanuel Kant's notion that the world as we experience it is shaped by the forms of human thought and sensibility. But he settled into a comfortable life as Jewish professor of philosophy in Hamburg.
In February 1929, the University of Munich hosted a rally for the Kampfbund of German youth. Swastikas were everywhere, and there was a raucous ovation when Hitler and his entourage entered the hall. The Viennese philosopher Othmar Spann delivered a speech arguing that German philosophy was being traduced by Jews.
In March 1929, Cassirer went to Davos for a two-week seminar on Kant, which he led in collaboration with Heidegger. Cassirer praised Kant as showing that humanity is constantly striving for an unattainable enlightenment. Heidegger presented Kant as revealing an abyss beneath the throne of reason. It was a difference of opinion.

AR Eilenbergers aufschlussreiche Lektüre hat auch heute hohe Relevanz.

Birkenstocks

Helen Jennings

British Vogue has declared Birkenstocks the official sandal of 2020. Not bad for a shoe that puts orthopedic prowess above fashion appeal. With their boat-like natural cork, jute, and latex sole and chunky buckled straps, Birkenstocks make an anti-fashion statement that transcends trends.
The family shoe business goes back to Johann Adam Birkenstock in Germany in 1774. In 1963, Karl Birkenstock launched the single-strap Madrid, still a key style today. Three years later, Margot Fraser, a German dressmaker living in California, wore a pair as therapy and ended up finding a spot for the sandals at health food stores, where hippies discovered them during the Summer of Love.
The two-strap Arizona sandal from 1973 remains the brand's bestselling style. In 1990, Kate Moss posed for a cover shoot wearing Birkenstocks, and soon the shoe was adopted by college students and musicians to complement their plaid shirts and baby doll dresses.
The Birkenstock brand has historically put little emphasis on marketing or endorsements. The business is now distributing to over 100 countries and offers around 800 styles, all of which stay unwaveringly true to the footbed.

AR I had a pair in Germany.

 

2020 August 14

Disloyal

Michael Cohen

I was Donald Trump's first call every morning and his last call every night. I bore witness to the real man, in strip clubs, shady business meetings, and in the unguarded moments when he revealed who he really was: a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.
In these dangerous days, I see the Republican party and Trump's followers threatening the constitution and following one of the worst impulses of humankind: the desire for power at all costs.

AR Ecce homo.

Betelgeuse

Agence France-Presse

The unexpected dimming of the supergiant star Betelgeuse was most likely caused by an immense amount of hot material ejected into space and forming a dust cloud.
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics lead researcher Andrea Dupree: "With Hubble, we see the material as it left the star's visible surface and moved out through the atmosphere, before the dust formed that caused the star to appear to dim. We could see the effect of a dense, hot region in the southeast part of the star moving outward."

AR Reassuring — we were puzzled.

Philosophy

Markus Gabriel

We need to restore the link between the market and morality. Issues with no economic answers include digitization, climate protection, populism, the end of the West, and the rise of China. We need values to address them.
A philosopher king would organize our society around absolute good as a goal. Angela Merkel tries to govern with the good in mind, but she has to make compromises.
The pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of our system. It has also shown us how quickly we can change things. To claim we cannot solve the climate problem by democratic means is a political lie.
Universal values are not just a European invention, for then they would not be universal. Ultimately, our moral judgments are very similar everywhere. Discriminating between people on the basis of their identity is bad.
All human beings are equal in basic law. I advocate a principle of forbearance. People should be lenient with one another.
Social media like Facebook undermine liberal democracy and erode the value of truth. Search engines like Google are designed to be addictive. These systems are as dangerous as drugs and need to be regulated.

AR Gabriel ist ein guter Philosoph.

 

Biden-Harris

Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris

Macron, Merkel

Murchison meteorite
Hermann Beer
The Murchison meteorite
fell in Australia in 1969. Its
mass is over 100 kg and it
is almost 5 Gy old.

"The Beirut blast was planned
to be a Hiroshima holocaust
to level the Haifa Bay area
and kill a million Jews."
Rabbi Lazer Brody

Geena Davis
⦿ Magdalena Wosinska
Geena Davis:
"Storytellers and people on
screen should reflect the
population, which is half
female and incredibly
diverse."

Summer

Beach
⦿ Imam Tawhidi

W76
NNSA
W76-2 thermonuclear warhead

Vanessa Hudgens
Vanessa Hudgens
Relax, it's still summer

 

2020 August 13

American Election

The New York Times

The first full day for the Democratic presidential ticket offered a glimpse of how Joe Biden and Kamala Harris envision American recovery from the crises surrounding public health, the economy, and racial injustice.
Harris: "We need more than a victory on November 3. We need a mandate that proves that the past few years do not represent who we are or who we aspire to be."

American Future

Joe Biden

This is a serious moment for our nation. We're at one of those inflection points for our history, a life-changing election for this nation. The choice we make this November is going to decide the future of America for a very long time.
This is a serious moment for our nation. We're at one of those inflection points for our history, a life-changing election for this nation. The choice we make this November is going to decide the future of America for a very long time.

American Leadership

Kamala Harris

There is a reason the pandemic has hit America worse than any other advanced nation. It is because of Trump's failure to take it seriously from the start. His refusal to get testing up and running, his flip flopping on social distancing and wearing masks. His delusional belief that he knows better than the experts.
Because of Trump's failures of leadership, our economy has taken one of the biggest hits out of all the major industrialized nations, with an unemployment rate that has tripled as of today. This is what happens when we elect a guy who just isn't up to the job. Our country ends up in tatters, and so does our reputation around the world.

AR I wish them a historic victory.

 

2020 August 12

Biden Picks Harris

Financial Times, Wikipedia

Joe Biden has named Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate. He tweeted: "I have the great honor to announce that I've picked Kamala Harris — a fearless fighter for the little guy and one of the country's finest public servants — as my running mate."
California senator Harris, 55, was a top contender in January 2020 as Democratic candidate for the presidency before she stood down for Biden in March. Before becoming a senator she served as district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of California.
Her father Donald Harris was born in Jamaica and is now a professor emeritus of economics at Stanford University. Her mother Shyamala Gopalan was a Tamil American cancer researcher and civil rights activist born in India.

AR Excellent choice. Biden is 77.

UK Q2 GDP 20% Down

Financial Times

The UK economy suffered a bigger slump than any other major European economy in 2020 Q2. It shrank by a fifth and fell into its deepest recession on record.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak: "Today's figures confirm that hard times are here."

"The UK has suffered the worst coronavirus death toll in Europe and now the worst recession in Europe. This would suggest we have the most incompetent government in Europe."
Piers Morgan

AR Bodger, take note.

 

2020 August 11

UK Border Force

The Times

British government ministers are considering using Border Force cutters to stop small boats from reaching UK territorial waters but are moving away from intercepting the migrants and taking them to Dunkirk.
Official figures suggest 677 people were caught making the crossing from France to England between Thursday and Sunday.
Former Home Office permanent secretary Sir David Normington: "The best solution is if we can persuade the French to intensify efforts to stop illegal migrants leaving the French coast or patrolling the coastline within French territorial waters."
Home secretary Priti Patel: "I am committed to making this incredibly dangerous route unviable."

AR Such strife over so few poor people?

How Life on Earth Began

Michael Marshall

When Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago, it was a sterile ball of rock. Within a billion years, it had become inhabited by microorganisms. All the key molecules of life can form from the same simple chemistry and combine easily to make protocells.
The oldest accepted fossils are of microorganisms like bacteria. But even the simplest modern bacteria have more than 100 genes. The first organisms must have been simpler.
Life has three core systems. Structural integrity comes from an outer membrane holding each cell together. Metabolism is a set of chemical reactions that obtain energy from the surroundings. Reproduction uses genes, which contain instructions for building cells and are passed on to offspring.
Cell membranes are made of lipids, molecules containing long chains of carbon atoms. Metabolism is run by proteins, chains of amino acids, twisted into pretzel shapes, including enzymes, which help catalyze chemical reactions. And genes are encoded in nucleic acids, such as DNA.
The three core processes are intertwined. Genes carry instructions for making proteins, and proteins are needed to maintain and copy genes. Proteins also help to construct the lipids for membranes.
Perhaps all three systems emerged together. The Murchison meteorite contains lipid-like molecules, amino acids, and a component of RNA, indicating they can form together.
Combining cyanamide with other simple chemicals can create nucleotides for RNA. The reaction requires ultraviolet light, heating and drying, and wetting with water. The same starting chemicals can also make the precursors of amino acids and lipids. Lipid containers help RNA and proteins to form and RNA to replicate, and RNA stabilises the lipid membranes.
Protocells with outer layers of fatty acids surrounding a space that can host RNA form quickly in the presence of tiny particles of a clay called montmorillonite, which often became trapped inside them, carrying RNA inside too. The protocells can even divide to form daughter cells.
Metabolism involves entire sequences of chemical reactions. In modern organisms, these are controlled by protein enzymes. But many of the key reactions can be driven by metals like iron, often paired with sulphur. Clusters of iron and sulphur atoms can form within protocells, driven by UV light. The protocells grow and reproduce and carry RNA.
The first life needed a solid mineral surface, sunlight with UV radiation, and enough heat to periodically evaporate water. The best place to find traces of life beyond Earth is on Mars.

AR Better understanding life is a good reason to go to Mars.

Dwarf Planet Ceres

Agence France-Presse

Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt. The NASA Dawn spacecraft captured high-resolution images from about 35 km above its surface. NASA and ESA scientists have now determined that there is an extensive reservoir of brine beneath the surface.
Maria Cristina De Sanctis: "We can now say that Ceres is a sort of ocean world."

AR Water seems to be common out there.

 

2020 August 10

Popular Government

Alan Finlayson

A permanent campaigning mindset is the new art of government. Decision making is based on assessments not of what might be good policy but of what looks good, keeps sponsors on board, and appeals to key voters. Government is reduced to popularity management.
Government by campaign is symptomatic of a deeper change. Mass democracy was based on the idea that government acted for everyone, in the public interest and for the common good, by brokering a settlement between the competing interests of various groups.
Such groups are now more complex and less stable. The occupational, economic, and geographic locations of voters are more likely to vary over a lifetime. Connections between distinct social interests and their political representatives have been attenuated.
The government tries to keep up by means of opinion polls. These serve as an ongoing referendum on its policies. The upside is that government is continually apprised of and attentive to public opinion. The downside is that governments no longer govern but instead do what is most popular.
Public opinion is not only a source but also an object of policy. Government policy focuses not on changing the situations people are living in but on changing how people feel about their situations. Government has become a permanent experiment in managing and shaping political attitudes.

AR So one man, one vote is now an obsolete idea.

Higgs Boson Puzzle

Leah Crane

We have spotted the Higgs boson performing a new trick, but one that brings us no closer to understanding the workings of fundamental particles. The Higgs boson gives all other fundamental particles mass in the standard model, but no one can figure out exactly how or why. The only way to find out is by observing how the Higgs interacts with other particles using the LHC.
We have observed the Higgs decaying into two muons. Some say particles have different masses because there is more than one type of Higgs boson, but the muon decay suggests there is only one Higgs. We know the standard model is incomplete but experimental results have been entirely in line with it. We need more data.

AR Another plea for more funding.

 

2020 August 9

America: Covid

The New York Times

Some leading US public health experts say it need only take 6−8 weeks to get the American coronavirus epidemic under control.
The causes of the failure run deep, exacerbated by innumerable longstanding problems, from a weak public health infrastructure to institutional racism to systemic inequality in health care, housing, and employment.
If the pandemic forces the nation to grapple with any of those issues, then perhaps all this suffering will not have been in vain.

AR Plan for November. Already 5 million Americans are infected and over 160 000 have died — about the combined deaths the US atom bombs inflicted at Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 years ago.

Britain: Boris

Tim Shipman

Boris Johnson goes on holiday at the end of this week. He plans to re-read Lucretius, the Roman writer credited with the idea of dividing human history into the stone, bronze, and iron ages.
Perhaps the prime minister will divide his term of office into the Brexit, coronavirus, and later ages. He is said to be holidaying in Scotland for two weeks. Scottish independence could derail his plans for 10 years in office.
A senior Tory: "If he presides over the end of the union, he would have to resign. You can't go on if you become the last prime minister of the United Kingdom."
Another: "The people who most wanted to leave the EU are the same people who are most keen to save the union. They'd force him out."

AR As I see it, no consistent philosophy of agitation can shuck off the EU yet save the UK.

 

2020 August 8

A Covid Novel

Laura Spinney

Summer, by Ali Smith, is infused with the pandemic we are living through. That it has appeared now is a tribute to the agility of both author and publisher.
Many people picking up a novel this summer might hope to escape into a fictional world. Literary fiction that explores contagion is thin on the ground, especially when compared with literature about war. But science fiction and fantasy writers have never shied away from contagion.
A happy ending is hard to come by in a pandemic, and verisimilitude is important to writers of literary fiction. That may be why so many are keeping plague diaries right now. A diary is not a novel, but it might be the seed of one.
We might reap a crop of pandemic-themed novels in years to come. Those novels that have staying power will act as messages in a bottle to future generations.

Summer 2020
Alex Preston

Summer is the final instalment of Ali Smith's seasonal quartet. Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer are independent novels that work together as a collage of reflections on the way we live now.
These four novels are rarely blindsided by events, so attuned are they to the spirit of their times. Yet I wonder if there is too much reality in 2020 even for this supremely subtle and supple writer.
Reading the four books together, we understand the huge ambition that underlies them. Ali Smith has completed something truly remarkable.

AR Have I the time to read it?

 

2020 August 7

Flash — Bang — Gone

The New York Times

Nine states have nuclear weapons: The United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. President Trump and Vladimir Putin have the power to fire a nuclear barrage on their own. Both are working on modernizing their arsenals.
The US modernization effort is on track to surpass its $1.2 trillion price tag by 2050. Trump has not yet extended the New START accord, the only agreement still in place limiting American and Russian nuclear forces.

AR Make New START.

 □

Muslims — Coronavirus — England

Zamira Rahim

Last week, a few hours before the Islamic holy festival of Eid al-Adha, the UK government suddenly announced local lockdowns in areas in northern England where Covid-19 cases had spiked. The affected areas were all places with big Islamic populations.
Rabnawaz Akbar, Labour Party councillor in Manchester: "The timing .. focused people's minds [on Muslims]. [People think] it must be the Muslim community's fault. [The government is] highlighting a particular demographic. And people are angry."
Craig Whittaker, Conservative MP for Calder Valley: "What I have seen in my constituency is that we have areas of our community .. that are just not taking the pandemic seriously enough .. If you look at the areas where we've seen rises in cases, the vast majority [are] BAME [Black, Asian, and minority ethnic] communities."
Whittaker explained: "Calderdale Council has not only identified a causal correlation between the locations of a high concentration of our ethnic Asian residents and that of Covid-19 infections, but has also formed the opinion that behaviour in these areas needs to be addressed .. I make no apology for my comments."
BAME people are more likely to live in overcrowded and urban areas, and to work in jobs that put them at risk of catching Covid-19.

AR On this issue, I back Whittaker.

 

2020 August 6

The Bomb

William J. Perry, Tom Z. Collina

The threats from The Bomb have grown worse. President Trump has sole authority to start nuclear war. He could launch nuclear weapons first in response to a false alarm.
The US Air Force is rebuilding land-based ballistic missiles for $100 billion. We are heading in the wrong direction. If we do not end The Bomb, The Bomb will end us.

Hiroshima + 75
Julian Borger

Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb onto Hiroshima, is now at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. The plaque below it says:
"Although designed to fight in the European theater, the B-29 found its niche on the other side of the globe. In the Pacific, B-29s delivered a variety of aerial weapons: conventional bombs, incendiary bombs, mines, and two nuclear weapons."
All reference to the moral, political, and historical debate over the bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 and then Nagasaki on 9 August has been left off.
US Navy fleet admiral and Combined Chiefs of Staff chair William Leahy:
"It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan."
University of California in Santa Barbara professor emeritus Tsuyoshi Hasegawa:
"I would say that the Soviet entry into the war had a more decisive impact on the decision to surrender than the atomic bombs."

AR Defense technology is advanced enough to let us Ban The Bomb once and for all.

 

2020 August 5

Flunking Covid

CNN

President Donald Trump was still struggling to grasp the severity of the coronavirus pandemic during a task force meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday.
A source: "He still doesn't get it. He does not get it."
Trump's meeting with the task force in the Oval Office was his first in-depth meeting with the panel of his top health experts since April. As some members of the task force tried to stress the dire nature of the situation, Trump kept trying to change the subject.
The source: "He starts talking about something else."

AR The world's superpower? This is embarrassing.

 □

Bodging Covid

Rafael Behr

A thriving consumer economy and a functioning education system both shuffle bodies around in ways that facilitate contagion. The government response is to say people should avoid congregating indoors, unless it is to spend money.
Boris Johnson seems surprised to find that governing is beyond his capabilities. He tries to mask the strain in public with bluster. The giveaway is how much he relies on saying the challenge can be met with a sheer effort of will.
Johnson believes in both having cake and eating it. His impulse when bad news comes knocking is to hide behind the door. His approach is reinforced by Dominic Cummings, whose working assumption is that nearly everyone is stupider than him. Put this pair together in the Downing Street bunker, where even competent politicians are prone to paranoia under siege, and the result is an operation that is stingy with trust, lavish with blame, and instinctively dishonest.
Johnson came to the job of prime minister complacent about how hard it would be. Most of us understand the need sometimes to suppress selfish impulses in favour of duty toward others. Boris Johnson finds it challenging.

AR Get the pair out before they bodge Brexit.

 □

Ekpyrosis

Charlie Wood

Nearly 14 billion years ago, there was a big bang. In a brief moment, a burst of energy inflated the cosmos like a balloon. The inflation straightened out spacetime to give a flat geometry. Matter was scattered to make the cosmos look largely empty.
Paul Steinhardt and others have revived the idea of a cyclical or ekpyrotic universe that periodically grows and contracts. They find that no matter how bizarre the universe was before it contracted, the collapse erases its primordial wrinkles.
The equations of general relativity let the universal scale factor and the Hubble horizon evolve independently. Changing either of them can smooth and flatten the universe. Blowing up a balloon flattens its surface. In the cyclic universe, balloon deflation and a shrinking horizon smooth it.
Imagine a universe that expands for perhaps a trillion years, driven by a hypothetical field working like dark energy. When the field thins out, the cosmos starts to deflate. Over billions of years, the scale factor contracts gently, but the Hubble horizon shrinks to a microscopic size. The cosmos heats up and starts to bounce.
The microscopic horizon ensures smoothness and flatness. Whereas inflation blows up into a huge multiverse, slow contraction leaves a cosmos that has no beginning, no end, no primordial singularity, and no multiverse.

AR I'm beginning to like a cyclic model.

 

Beirut
⦿ AFP
Aftermath of a fire in a warehouse containing 2700 tons of ammonium nitrate in Beirut

SAP
BLOOMBERG
SAP boss Christian Klein says
Europe must do better
to compete in tech

DC, VP
FB
Vlad helps Dom shape Bo to
prep England for Day X

Steve Bray
imageplotter photography
Steve Bray: "We have to
take this campaign up
so many levels."

Beach
AR
A walk on the beach

ALW, TS
Taylor Swift
Andrew Lloyd Webber
with Taylor Swift in
December 2019

 

2020 August 4

China

Rachel Sylvester

Chinese science fiction writer Liu Cixin's trilogy The Three-Body Problem is a parable about the clash of civilizations between China and the West. It has been translated into 26 languages and sold over 9 million copies worldwide.
Liu: "To effectively contain a civilization's development and disarm it across such a long span of time, there is only one way: kill its science."
China already dominates the global drone market and 5G telecoms and is investing heavily in AI, robotics, and other emerging technologies. Last year, China was first to land a science probe on the far side of the Moon.
Liu: "China is on the path of rapid modernization and progress, kind of like the US during the golden age of science fiction."
In 1991, China spent $9 billion on research and development, Britain spent $18 billion, and America $161 billion. In 2018, China spent $554 billion, Britain $53 billion, and America $581 billion. Correcting for PPP, China leads.
Liu: "China is a futuristic country."

AR China gives me hope for the human future.

 □

Europe

Gideon Rachman

Without the UK, the EU is progressing toward a closer union. A stronger EU will be a better partner for America. The EU and the UK could form a pair like the United States and Canada.
In July, EU leaders agreed to borrow collectively on the financial markets. This happened because the UK was not there to veto it. The is a step toward closer political union.
Britain was blocking the progress of the European project. Now the project is regaining momentum. A balanced US alliance with the EU looks possible without the UK.

AR Brexit still puts Brits in a deep hole.

 

2020 August 3

SpaceX Brings Astronauts Home

Daniel Oberhaus

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley safely splashed down in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on Sunday after a 2-month stay on the International Space Station. They were the first NASA astronauts to ride to orbit on a private spacecraft.
Behnken and Hurley landed in the ocean off Florida. They sheltered in the capsule until they were pulled from the water by a SpaceX ship. The capsule will be restored at a SpaceX facility in Florida and used again for another crewed mission next spring.
Once NASA has reviewed the mission data, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule is expected to be certified for human spaceflight. SpaceX can begin shuttling astronauts to and from the space station from September, four astronauts at a time.
SpaceX has shown a private company can send people to space and bring them back home.

AR Well done Elon Musk.

 □

UK Chemical Industry Brexit Cost

Financial Times

Cornelius Group CEO Neville Prior says the bureaucratic blowback for his industry from the impact of Brexit next January keeps him awake at night.
The safety registrations of his chemicals are held in the Reach registration database run by the European Chemicals Agency (Echa) in Helsinki. From January 1, they will need to be re-registered with a new UK equivalent. For Prior, this is pain with no gain.
Registering a single chemical in the new UK Reach database could cost up to £300,000 if companies are required to buy letters of access to Echa. The new system will add more than £1 billion in costs to companies just to duplicate existing registrations.
Boris Johnson has ruled out associate membership of Echa. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister Rebecca Pow admitted there would be "significant cost and burden to industry" in complying with UK Reach.
Echa employs 600 people with an annual budget of €110 million. UK Reach will employ up to 50 staff with an annual budget of £13 million.

AR Bodger's Brexit is sabotaging European competiveness.

 □

Day X

Katrin Bennhold

Day X is when German social order collapses, requiring committed extremists to save themselves and rescue the nation.
Nordkreuz was one of the groups preparing for Day X. Its members planned to round up their political enemies, drive them off in trucks to a secret location, and shoot them. Their unofficial leader was Marko Gross, a police sniper and former parachutist.
Gross and his friends formed Nordkreuz in early 2016, prompted by the arrival in 2015 of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The German intelligence service was tipped off, and investigations began.
Over time, Nordkreuz morphed into a brotherhood preparing for Day X. Members began hoarding survivalist supplies, including food, gasoline, toiletries, radios, medicine, and more than 55,000 rounds of ammunition. They met at a safe house deep in the Pomeranian woods.
Authorities conducted raids on the homes of Nordkreuz members and uncovered weapons, ammunition, enemy lists, and a shopping list for Day X. In 2019, Gross was charged with illegal possession of weapons and given a 21-month suspended sentence.
Gross is a fan of Donald Trump and still expects Day X.

AR Dad's Army, Teutonic style.

 

2020 August 2

The Chosen One

Jeff Sharlet

President Trump intimates that Judgment Day is coming. In Hershey, Pennsylvania, he spoke of "illegals," hacking and raping and bludgeoning, "relentlessly beating a wonderful, beautiful high school teenager to death with a baseball bat and chopping the body apart with a machete." And that, he added, was only what he could reveal. There was more, he said, much, much more. Believe me.
Trump's timing is that of a Borscht Belt comedian. Only he tweaks the Jewish comic formula of funny because it's sad, sad because it's funny. With Trump, it's funny because it's mean.
Time for a joke: "Five years," Trumps says. He pauses, smirks. "Nine years, 13 years, 17 years, 21 years, 25 years, 29 years." Then the punch line: "When I leave office."
The crowd roars. "Now," Trump says, pointing to his cage full of reporters, "I'm only doing that to drive them totally crazy. That drives them crazy. Even joking about it!"
Suddenly Trump is not joking at all. "Deadly sanctuary cities," he announces, as if that's what he's been talking about all along. "These jurisdictions deliberately release dangerous, violent, criminal aliens out of their jails and directly onto your streets, where they are free to offend, where they are free to kill, where they are free to rape." Trump's hands are chopping. "Brutalized," chop! "Murdered," chop! "Hacking," chop! "Ripping out, in two cases, their hearts." All because Democrats gave "safe haven to those who commit violent sex crimes."
In Washington, following a gas processional, the president of the United States marches through the sterile aftermath to hold aloft a Bible, upside down, its red ribbon dangling along his wrist like a snake's tongue.

AR The long source text has a cumulative power.

 □

Yukuza Nukes

Julian Borger

UK defense secretary Ben Wallace wrote to the US Congress to support initial spending on the W93 warhead for Trident missiles.
The Trump administration aims to speed up work on the warhead and has put a $53 million request for design work in its 2021 budget.
The funding hangs in the balance. Congress is debating the need for the $14 billion W93 program. The US Navy already has two warheads to choose from for its Trident missiles.
UK-USA Yukuza — coordinates work on nuclear warheads. The current UK Trident warhead, the Holbrook, is very similar to the W76 warhead the US Navy has on its Trident missiles.
The W93 will have a much higher yield than the W76. The W76 and W88 have already been given multibillion-dollar upgrades.
The total cost of the US nuclear weapons modernization program is expected to be far in excess of $1 trillion.

AR At a time of budgetary emergency, this is obscene.

 □

Steve Bannon Dominic Cummings

Mark Townsend

Donald Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon says of Boris Johnson's chief adviser Dominic Cummings: "A brilliant guy. I think Cummings is very smart where he puts his efforts. What I like about him is he has the ability to focus on the main things."
SB: "Boris will adapt his policies to become more populist over time .. There is one choice: hard out, no deal."
Bannon, who also calls Tommy Robinson the backbone of Britain, began visiting the UK frequently in 2013 and meeting people like UKIP leader Nigel Farage and members of the Young Britons Foundation, a Tory madrasa for teaching the dark arts of politics.
SB: "Guys like Boris and Dominic Cummings .. were very important, but they were quite late to the party."

Revolutionary Communists
Andy Beckett

Today's Conservative government has adopted some of the sizzle of a defunct radical sect, the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), a tiny British party founded in 1978 and disbanded in 1997.
A former RCP member, Munira Mirza, is head of the Downing Street policy unit. Boris Johnson hired her in 2008 and made her a deputy mayor of London, and last year she co-authored his election manifesto.
Another RCP veteran, Claire Fox, was elected in 2019 as a Brexit party MEP. Last Friday, Boris nominated her for a peerage.

AR The Conservative party is now a Leninist party.

 

2020 August 1

Women

Sharon Moalem

Females have two X chromosomes, which gives them a survival advantage over men.
Mammalian females have two genetically different populations of cells in them. The two populations build their bodies during fetal life, and the cells with the X genes that work better outcompete the others. Males have just one copy of the X.
The X is rich in immune-related genes. A group of genes on the X encode a receptor called TLR7 that helps cells recognize the coronavirus. Women have two populations of immune cells, each one using a different version of TLR7 to do so. The coronavirus uses a protein called ACE2 to enter our cells, and the gene for ACE2 is on the X chromosome.
The female immune system is more aggressive than the male immune system. Estrogens stimulate the immune system, while testosterone inhibits it. But even before puberty, autoimmunity is still higher in females.
In both sexes, fetal thyroid gland immune cells usually self-destruct if they recognize other cells from the person's own body. Females, who have two cell populations, are more likely than males to fail at destroying all the self-recognizing cells. Female immune cells are more likely to recognize their own cells as foreign.
Many microbes invade and escape detection in the body because they resemble human cells. Females are better able to be able to discern them, because they keep cells that are more likely to attack things that resemble themselves. Women have higher rates of autoimmune diseases, but if it helps you survive covid-19, that's a benefit.
We need to stop treating men and women as if they are biologically the same.

AR Sobering reading for men.

 □

Folklore

Spencer Kornhaber

Taylor Swift sings of her grandfather on a 1942 battlefield, attending to a comrade bleeding out. By verse two, she's singing from a 2020 medical ward of plastic sheaths and labored breathing. The soldier and the medical worker, overburdened by horror, both dream of an epiphany.
On her album Folklore, Swift writes with a care and empathy that feel almost priestly. Her first seven albums unpacked her teenage diary and then litigated celebrity romances. But Folklore also has fictional stories, historical stories, personal stories, and even all three in the space of single songs.
Swift is an artist defined by clarity. Her writing is excellent, with surprising word choices, like when she writes of early love that "expires" rather than dies. One economical and vivid song welds brief anecdotes to big feminist themes.
The album includes a teenage love triangle trilogy, each sung from a different perspective. The final story first hits the ear as a tale of same-sex desire, but the play feels openhearted and thematically justified.
Folklore advertises itself as a revelation. One song compares the singer to a disco ball, spinning above a dance floor and reflecting the revelers back on themselves. That's an enchanting image.

AR Swift is a major artist.

 □

Symplectic Geometry

Kevin Hartnett

Symplectic geometry has grown to study geometric spaces with a symplectic structure.
The least structured spaces are just collections of connected points, such as a line in 1D and the surface of a ball in 2D. We can deform them without changing their topology.
Adding more structure to a space limits how we can deform it. We can add a metric structure to the surface of a ball, like grid lines on a globe, but inflating or indenting the ball will change it.
A symplectic structure provides an intermediate level of structure. For example, as a planet moves through space, it has position coordinates qj (for j = 1,2,3) in a 3D space. At each point in that space, we can assign 3 momentum coordinates pj (for j = 1,2,3) to give 6 coordinates in a 6D space.
This 6D space has a symplectic structure. At each point in the space we can draw 6 vectors for the q and p components. The space is a differentiable manifold with symplectic elements ω = dpj ∧ dqj that sum to invariant areas in planetary dynamics.
One way of defining 6D symplectic space is with 3 complex numbers a + bi. Their a and b parts correspond to the pj and qj in elements ω. For each point, the pj and qj vectors (for j = 1,2,3) make up its 3 complex coordinates in a 3D complex space.
Symplectic geometry has a wide range of connections in mathematics and physics.

AR Worth further study.

 


⦿ William Abranowicz/Architectural Digest
Kendall Jenner finds refuge in a serene Los Angeles home bathed in warm tones and organic textures.
 

37C



Boris Johnson nominates
his brother Jo Johnson
for elevation to the
House of Lords

UK coronavirus excess
deaths worst in Europe

Confirmed US coronavirus
fatalities so far:
150 000

Help!

 

2020 July 31

Mission to Mars: Perseverance

Kenneth Chang

NASA's Perseverance mission is headed to Mars. The Atlas 5 launcher rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral on Thursday and put the spacecraft on a trajectory to arrive at Mars in February 2021.
The launch was largely flawless, but a couple of hiccups emerged. A few hours after launch, NASA was having some trouble communicating with the spacecraft. Then JPL engineers adjusted their dishes to lock onto the telemetry data.
As mission controllers looked through the telemetry, they learned that Perseverance had entered safe mode. NASA said part of the spacecraft was colder than expected while it traveled in Earth's shadow. Later it warmed up, and engineers are working to bring Perseverance back to normal.
Perseverance is a car-size wheeled robot and is headed to a crater named Jezero that was once a lake. Perseverance will search for evidence of past life that might have lived in the lake.

AR Let's hope for good news in 2021.

 □

Germany in Europe

Timothy Garton Ash

The other day, I had a dream. I dreamed that I was sitting on a beach in the summer of 2030 and looking back on how Germany had saved Europe.
The German chancellor had brokered a European recovery package after the Covid-19 crisis of 2020, with large grants and loans to help hard-hit south European economies, drawing on shared European borrowing. It had maintained constructive relations between the EU and post-Brexit Britain, helped the citizens of Poland and Hungary to defend liberal democracy, confounded Vladimir Putin by seriously committing to a common European energy policy, used the regulatory power of the EU to curb Facebook, shaped a common strategy towards China, and made a world-leading example of Europe's green new deal.
Germany can be the steady football midfielder who keeps the whole team together. Sometimes those midfielders are the true heroes of the team.

AR Again, let's hope.

 

2020 July 30

US Tech Titans

The Times

Members of Congress accuse the chief executives of Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple of damaging US democracy and the US economy and operating like a private government.
Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Sundar Pichai, and Tim Cook respond by emphasizing the positive sides of their companies.

AR Their oligarchy would be better than Trump rule.

 □

Brexit

Luke McGee

The UK transition period with the EU expires on December 31. The EU says the UK must commit to obey certain laws for continued free access to its single market. The UK says the EU is making unreasonable demands and not respecting its sovereignty.
Institute for Government researcher Georgina Wright: "The EU's focus is on economic recovery, the role of member states in EU decision making, climate, and the rule of law, not on the UK."
King's College London professor Anand Menon: "Certain loud Brexiteers might like to shout that Brussels had better brace itself for the UK to walk away, but in reality, it's going to hit the UK much harder than it will hit the EU."
The EU summit agreed €5 billion of contingency funds for a no-deal Brexit — a rounding error in an overall budget of €1.8 trillion. This shows where Brexit lies in EU priorities.

Eurotunnel Risk
Lisa O'Carroll

Next year, EU law will no longer be applicable to the part of the Eurotunnel under the jurisdiction of the UK. The EU wants the UK to accept a role for the European Court of Justice to keep the trains running through the tunnel.
France needs to negotiate a new bilateral deal with the UK. Experts say it will be hard to resolve future disputes between the EU and the UK without the ECJ.

AR The UK government is stark raving mad.

 □

Avoiding Dark Matter

Charlie Wood

A tweaked version of Einstein's theory of gravity can reproduce the cosmic microwave map of the early universe without appeal to dark matter.
The Lambda cold dark matter (ΛCDM) model agrees precisely with the CMB. A modified theory of gravity must explain the CMB temperature and polarization and the current distribution of galaxies.
Tom Złosnik and Constantinos Skordis add a new field to general relativity. On cosmic scales, it can shape the universe just as dark matter would. In a galaxy, it augments gravity just enough to hold the galaxy together.
Dark matter remains the simpler theory.

AR ΛCDM seems a fudge to me.

 

Saturn
NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley), OPAL Team
Saturn image taken by Hubble Space Telescope at a distance of 1.35 Tm on July 4, 2020, during northern summer on Saturn.
The bright dots are the moons Mimas (right) and Enceladus (bottom).
 

Holidaymaker
⦿ Alex Zea
UK holidaymakers face new
UK restrictions: "No travel
is risk-free."

Taylor Swift
⦿ Beth Garrabrant
Taylor Swift

Portland
FB
Portland

Folklore
Taylor Swift
Folklore

 

2020 July 29

ITER Nuclear Fusion

Damian Carrington

The ITER nuclear fusion project has begun its 5-year assembly phase in France. The €20 billion project will fuse H to He as in the Sun to show that fusion power can be commercial.
The reactor will have a mass of 23 Gg. Almost 3 Gg of superconducting magnets will be connected by 200 km of superconducting cables, all kept at 4 K while the plasma is heated to 150 MK.
French president Emmanuel Macron launched the assembly phase, alongside senior figures from ITER members (EU, UK, China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, USA).
ITER director-general Bernard Bigot: "Enabling the exclusive use of clean energy will be a miracle for our planet."

Brits Out
BBC News

The UK is a member of the ITER project but is set to fall out at the end of the Brexit transition, because the British government withdrew from the Euratom treaty as part of Brexit.

AR Another own goal from an inept HMG.

 

2020 July 28

US Stimulus Plan

Financial Times

Senate Republicans have a $1 trillion stimulus plan that cuts emergency unemployment benefits. House Democrats had approved a $3 trillion plan. Republicans say maintaining benefits at $600 a week discourages work and propose $200 a week.
Senate finance committee Democrat Ron Wyden: "The Republican proposal is a punch in the gut and a slap in the face for the 30 million Americans relying on lifeline unemployment insurance benefits. It adds insult to infection."

AR Save $400, lose the election.

 □

US Border Patrol

Ed Pilkington

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has always seen itself as a militarized force. Now its aspiration is being enabled by the Trump administration.
President Trump has made inner cities under Democratic control a running theme of his presidency. His dispatch of federal agents to Portland turns his American carnage rhetoric into reality.
The federal officers deployed in Portland were led by the border patrol tactical unit Bortac. Its agents are trained for SWAT-style raids on gangs smuggling immigrants or drugs across the US border.
The Trump administration has dispatched Bortac into the US interior to work alongside ICE officers. CBP rules say they can operate within 100 miles of any US border, covering 200 million Americans.
Bortac agents live in tight groups like the Navy SEALs and do military-style training. They see migrants — and even people in vehicles who look Latino and speak Spanish — as criminals.
National Border Patrol Council president Brandon Judd: "President Trump is the right candidate for the safety and security of this great nation."

AR For a chap with a hammer, all problems are nails.

 □

Booker Prize 2020

James Marriott

The vast majority of fiction is read by women. Nowadays 4 out of 5 novels are bought by women. The advantage enjoyed by male novelists has melted away.
Women's Prize for Fiction co-founder and agent Clare Alexander: "We can't see them. There's not an appetite from publishers and it's hard to get men noticed. Unless they're contenders for the Booker or a major prize, they don't have much of a platform."
Novelist Luke Brown: "I do bristle at the current use of straight white male as an insult because I come from a place where nearly half the town are white men and they don't really expect much from life. The idea that their voices should take a back seat is offensive to me because they've never really had a front seat."
Brown says women seem able to write more freely about sex than men: "If men dodge this because they're scared to what extent they're allowed to own the unpalatable aspects of their sexuality, they'll only have themselves to blame in that no one wants to publish or read them."
Brown says male novelists need to make their case: "People should be interested in the male novelist because men are still everywhere and it might be of interest to understand what they're thinking."
Alexander: "I've got to go and find the best men nobody's ever heard of."

AR ALBION

 

2020 July 27

We Germany

The Guardian

Germany is the most admired country in the world for the third year running. The annual Gallup poll gives Germany an approval rating of 44%, with the USA second at 33% and China third at 32%. The poll surveyed 1000 adults in each of 135 countries in 2019, before coronavirus struck.
Gallup editor Mohamed Younis: "Longtime German chancellor Angela Merkel, loved or hated, has been one of the most predictable leaders in highly uncertain times in both Europe and the global order."

AR I Germany too.

 □

Brexit Reality

Financial Times

Anyone looking into the details of the proclaimed economic advantages of Brexit will see that what is most on offer are rising costs and extra bureaucracy. Brexit will deliver for those who wanted a new immigration system controlled by the UK government.
The government has failed to come even close to demonstrating how Brexit will bolster the UK economy. The latest 206-page document on preparations details new paperwork and extra infrastructure: 215 million extra customs declarations, £7 billion in extra costs to businesses, and an extra 50 000 customs agents to handle the regulations.
The new freedom to strike trade deals will do little to raise GDP, but the restrictions on EU trade can only reduce UK exports to its largest market. A US trade deal will add 0.16% to the UK GDP and FTAs with Australia and New Zealand will add even less. Exit from the EU single market and customs union will knock 5% from GDP over the next 15 years.
The economic case for Brexit was tacked on relatively late to counter the arguments of the Remainers. Its hollowness is now being exposed. Leavers were sincere in many of their political beliefs about Brexit, but their economic arguments were a sham.

AR End the farce now.

 

2020 July 26

Monica Lewinsky Wins

Tom Lutz

"I have a joke" was trending on Twitter on Friday.
A user tweeted: "I have a Charles Manson joke and it kills."
Monica Lewinsky offered: "I have an intern joke and it .. nevermind."
By Saturday morning, her tweet had more than 350 000 likes.
"Monica wins the internet," tweeted Mia Farrow.
Lewinsky was a White House intern when Bill Clinton was president, they had an affair, and he was impeached. The investigation and trial featured excruciating detail about what they did.
POTUS 42 recently said his affair with her was something he did to "manage my anxieties": "It's not a defense, it's an explanation. It was awful. I feel terrible."
Lewinsky: "I felt like every layer of my skin and my identity were ripped off of me in 1998 and 1999 .. the shame sticks to you like tar."

AR We still love you, Monica.

 □

Poland vs Women

Reuters

Poland will take steps next week to withdraw from the Istanbul convention on violence against women.
The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) says the convention, which a centrist Polish government ratified in 2015, is disrespectful toward religion and requires teaching liberal social policies in schools.
PiS justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro: "It contains elements of an ideological nature, which we consider harmful."
Warsaw protester Marta Lempart: "The aim is to legalise domestic violence."

AR Resist such rollback from religion.

 □

The Russia Report

Carole Cadwalladr

Boris Johnson is a Russian asset. In the case of Russian interference in UK elections, and specifically the EU referendum, the best interests of both Johnson and Russia were served last week by disregarding the findings of the ISC report.
Internet connectivity has created a fundamental threat to UK sovereignty. The Russians stand accused of exploiting with disinformation and lies the same platform Dominic Cummings exploited in 2016. The ISC report demands a response.

AR The internet kills national sovereignty.

 □

Beefy Boris

Jörg Schindler

As a schoolboy, Boris Johnson was a star of the Eton Wall Game. He plunged into the opposing phalanx with verve and was regularly injured, but because he won more than he lost, he loved the game.
Around 40 years later, Johnson has ended a bruising first year as British prime minister. Just as he did at Eton's brick wall, he ran headfirst into anything and everything that stood in his way. But when it counted, he won.
As soon as he gained power, he plunged the UK into a constitutional crisis. He tried to disempower parliament by exploiting the queen, was called out by the supreme court, and got boxed in by the opposition. With outrageous luck, he then called new elections, won, and got Brexit done.
But then came a pandemic. He and his cabinet were infected one after the other. He says he is "fit as a butcher's dog" but he faces huge problems. The corona crisis has left the UK with one of the highest death rates in the world and plunged it into the worst recession in over 300 years.
Most Brits have lost confidence in Johnson. In terms of competence, leadership, sympathy, and listening to voters, Labour leader Keir Starmer is well ahead. Even diehard Tories, who almost worshiped their Boris until the pandemic began, increasingly doubt that he knows what he's doing. His big majority in parliament no longer looks invincible.
Boris has no one to blame but himself. He amputated the moderate wing of his party and united his government machine against him. The Downing Street brawler looks like the prime minister of England, leaving the Scots, Welsh, and Northern Irish feeling left out.
To make matters worse, he is losing friends on the international stage. Still the United States remains, but his fan Donald Trump may soon be gone.
In 2019, Boris compared himself to the Incredible Hulk: "The angrier he gets, the stronger he gets."
He may need that anger.

AR I hope we oust him first.

 

2020 July 25

American Catastrophe

Roger Cohen

Germans speak of the American catastrophe. President Donald Trump provokes outrage in a cascade to blunt alarm. The playbook from the German fall of democracy in 1933 seems well in place.
Unmarked cars and camouflaged federal agents without identifying insignia were used to detain protesters in Portland. Chicago is now among several cities being targeted for further confrontation.
When paramilitary units work without insignia, accountability and democracy die. This sets the scene for November: Trump can declare a state of emergency if he does not like the election result.

AR Dump Trump in November.

 □

British Nightmare

Julia Horowitz

Six months ago, Boris Johnson celebrated Brexit by calling Britain the Superman of global trade.
Now, the UK risks losing its easy access to the huge EU common market, failing to strike a ground-breaking deal with the United States, and getting into a trade fight with China.
Trade experts fear this will leave the UK more isolated than it has been for decades as it fights an unprecedented health and economic crisis. Already on course for the deepest downturn of any major economy, the UK is locked in persistent uncertainty tied to Brexit.
Johnson and the ERGs made much of the ability of a "global Britain" liberated by Brexit to strike out and forge lucrative trade agreements on its own terms. But such game-changing trade deals haven't materialized.
The UK government has also failed to replicate many of the third-party trade deals it once enjoyed as an EU member. More than half of Britain's total trade could be disrupted as a result of Brexit.
The OECD predicts that economic output will shrink more in the UK this year than any other developed country. Britain lags behind Europe in its coronavirus recovery, and millions of jobs are at risk.
Deutsche Bank economist Sanjay Raja: "The Brexit endgame will likely determine how strong the economic recovery will be."

AR Boris: Abandon Brexit.

 

2020 July 24

Brexit: Still No Deal

Michel Barnier

By its current refusal to commit to the condition of open and fair competition, and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the UK makes a trade agreement at this point unlikely. The UK is effectively asking for near total exclusion of EU fishing vessels from UK waters. That is simply unacceptable.
We need consistency or some sort of equivalence between our respective systems. We need to see what is ahead of us. The UK has not shown enough engagement and readiness to find solutions respecting the EU fundamental principles and interests.

AR Who expected better from Boris?

 □

The Scotch

Boris Johnson, 2004

The Scotch — What a verminous race!
Canny, pushy, chippy, they're all over the place.
Battening us off with false bonhomie
Polluting our stock, undermining our economy.


AR Then he was still a young shit.

 □

Quantum Gravity Buzz

Thomas Lewton

The world of gravitons only shows up at the Planck scale. But gravitons may create observable noise in gravitational wave detectors such as LIGO.
Recent calculations by Maulik Parikh, Frank Wilczek, and George Zahariade (PWZ) provide a solid theoretical footing to the idea of graviton noise. PWZ ask whether gravitational wave detectors can be sensitive enough to see gravitons.
Gravitational wave detectors have two masses separated by a distance. When a wave passes by, this distance increases and decreases as the wave stretches and squashes the space between the masses. Gravitons add a random jitter on top of the usual ripples. This is graviton noise.
Gravitational fields exist in different quantum states, depending on how they were created. Most often, a gravitational wave is produced in a coherent state. LIGO is tuned to search for these conventional gravitational waves.
PWZ found that a quantum state called a squeezed state produces a graviton noise that increases exponentially the more the gravitons are squeezed.
Alternatively, we might see graviton noise directly in the bubbling vacuum of spacetime, where virtual particles fleetingly pop in and out of existence, causing spacetime to warp around them and make spacetime foam.
If the holographic principle is true, the graviton lives on a lower-dimensional surface and encodes the force of gravity in higher-dimensional spacetime. Then the effects of quantum gravity can be amplified into the world of experiments like LIGO.
Erik Verlinde and Kathryn Zurek propose using LIGO or another sensitive interferometer to observe the bubbling vacuum that surrounds the instrument.
In a holographic universe, the interferometer sits in higher-dimensional space-time, which is closely wrapped in a lower-dimensional quantum surface. Adding up the tiny fluctuations across the surface creates a noise big enough to be detected.

AR Great work, guys.

 

China Mars launch
⦿ Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Tianwen-1 mission to Mars: Long March 5 launch, Wenchang Space Launch Center, China

Johnson, Temerko
TIMES
Johnson, Temerko

Russia
Red, white, and blue Brexit

Steve Bray

UvdL

Trump
NYT
Republicans break ranks

Duda family
FB
Andrzej Duda with wife Agata
and daughter Kinga

Mary Trump

 

2020 July 23

Tory Money

The Times

Conservative MPs Theresa Villiers and Mark Pritchard sit on the Intelligence and Security Committee: They and 14 government ministers received big donations from Lubov Chernukhin and Alexander Temerko, both British citizens born in the former Soviet Union. Villiers and Pritchard face calls to return the money or resign from the ISC.
Pritchard: "All donations to the Conservative Party and its MPs are received in good faith, after appropriate due diligence, from permissible sources."

Winnie the Pooh
John Crace

Boris Johnson either is unaware of his decline or believes it to be of little consequence.
For the last PMQs before the summer recess, Keir Starmer focused on the ISC report on Russian interference in UK politics. How come Johnson had managed to sit on something that had highlighted Russia as an urgent and immediate threat for 10 months?
The honest answer would have been that Johnson had actually intended to sit on the report for much longer but had been caught on the hop.
Instead Boris ignored the question and went on the attack: Starmer had failed to condemn the Salisbury novichok poisonings. Starmer pointed out that he had strongly supported government actions against the Russians on that occasion.
Yeah but no but you're still basically pro-Russian, said Boris. All this stuff about the ISC report was just sour grapes from "Islingtonian remoaners" who still hadn't got over the result of the 2016 referendum.
This was a Freudian slip. Labour under Starmer has never once tried to refight the Brexit vote. The only reason for Johnson to mention it was that fear of Russia influence in the referendum had led him to suppress the report.
A rattled Boris then burbled into a lame gag about "more flip-flops than Bournemouth beach" before declaring: "We are delivering as the people's government."
Tory MP Nusrat Ghani suggested Boris might spend his summer reading Winnie the Pooh.

AR Russian bear no Winnie.

 

2020 July 22

London Laundromat

The Times

UK intelligence agencies didn't bother to investigate how Russia disrupted the 2016 Brexit referendum. A Russian elite used its wealth to influence the British political system. A complacent establishment left the UK vulnerable to Russia.
The security services failed to investigate Russian interference in the referendum. Asked for evidence, MI5 provided six lines of text, much of it from public sources. No doubt the agencies were under political pressure not to investigate.
Russia may have interfered in the 2019 general election. Russian influence in UK political and financial systems is the new normal. Russian oligarchs use London to launder their wealth and their reputations.

No Quick Trade Deal
Financial Times

The UK government has abandoned hopes of reaching a US−UK trade deal ahead of the US presidential election.
An official: "Is it going to happen this year? Basically, no."

AR The end of a delusion.

 

2020 July 21

UK: The Russia Report

Financial Times

A long-awaited report by the Intelligence and Security Committee into Russian interference in UK politics concludes that Kremlin influence is the new normal. Successive governments welcomed Russian oligarchs and their money with open arms, letting them launder money through London and giving them access to UK companies and political figures. The UK intelligence services failed to take robust action to protect UK democracy.
Publication of the report was delayed and then postponed because of the 2019 election. MPs accused Boris Johnson of deliberately sitting on it.

Executive Summary
Intelligence and Security Committee (ed AR)

Russia considers the UK one of its top Western intelligence targets. The UK intelligence community must be given the tools it needs to tackle this very capable adversary.
Russian cyber capability poses an immediate and urgent threat to UK national security. A common international approach is needed in relation to offensive cyber. The UN has agreed that international law applies in cyberspace.
Russia spreads disinformation and seeks to influence political events in support of its underlying foreign policy objectives. The UK is clearly a target for Russian disinformation campaigns and political influence operations and must equip itself to counter such efforts.
The regulation of political advertising needs urgent review if it is to be fit for purpose in the age of widespread social media. HMG must seek to establish a protocol with the social media companies to ensure that they take covert hostile state use of their platforms seriously. It should name and shame those which fail to act.
The evidence appears to suggest that HMG had not seen or sought evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes or any activity that has had a material impact on an election.
We have no post-referendum assessment of Russian attempts at interference. The UK intelligence community should produce an assessment of potential Russian interference in the EU referendum and publish an unclassified summary.
The UK has been viewed as a favourable destination for Russian oligarchs and their money. The UK welcomed Russian money, and few questions, if any, were asked about its provenance. The money was recycled through the London laundromat and invested in extending patronage and influence across the British establishment.
Russian influence in the UK is the new normal. A lot of Russians with very close links to Putin are well integrated and accepted in London. A large private industry has developed in the UK to service the needs of the Russian elite.
Russian intelligence and business are completely intertwined. Several members of the Russian elite who are closely linked to Putin are involved with charitable and/or political organisations in the UK, having donated to political parties, with a public profile which positions them to assist Russian influence operations. A number of members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state.
HMG aims to harden the UK financial and property markets from the proceeds of crime and to challenge any perception that the UK is a safe haven for illicit funds. The tension between its prosperity agenda and the need to protect national security has led to the current situation.
Russia currently poses a significant threat to the UK on a number of fronts. In responding to the threat, the UK partnership with the US is important. Diminishing the strength of NATO is a key aim of the Kremlin.

AR The UK has let Russia damage the EU.

 □

Trump vs US Cities

Michelle Goldberg

Oregon attorney general Ellen Rosenblum alleges that federal agents have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland, detain protesters, and bundle them into the vehicles.
The Trump administration says it will send a similar force of Border Patrol agents to other cities. The US military is reluctant to deploy against citizens and police officers are under local control, but Border Patrol agents are under federal authority.
Yale historian Timothy Snyder: "This is a classic way that violence happens in authoritarian regimes, whether it's Franco's Spain or whether it's the Russian Empire."
House speaker Nancy Pelosi: "Trump and his storm troopers must be stopped."

AR This way lies a new civil war.

 □

EU Leaders Agree: €1.8 Trillion

Financial Times

EU leaders have struck a deal on a coronavirus recovery package. The heads of government agreed on a €750 billion package aimed at funding post-pandemic relief efforts in the EU. The core of the fund is €390 billion in grants to virus-hit member states.
The leaders also signed off on the next 7-year EU budget of just over €1 trillion. The frugal states still get the budget rebates agreed when the UK got a rebate. Instead of abolishing them after Brexit, the EU will increase them for the frugal states.

AR Seems a fair fudge.

 □

Greta Thunberg Wins €1 Million

Agence France-Presse

Greta Thunberg has been awarded the €1 million Gulbenkian prize for humanity for mobilizing younger generations for the cause of climate change and struggling to alter the status quo.
Thunberg: "That is more money than I can begin to imagine, but all the prize money will be donated, through my foundation, to different organizations and projects who are working to help people on the front line, affected by the climate crisis and ecological crisis."

AR Good for us all.

 

2020 July 20

Coronavirus: Oxford Vaccine Triggers Immune Response

BBC News

A coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford appears safe and triggers an immune response. Trials involving 1077 people showed the injection led to them making antibodies and T-cells that can fight coronavirus. The findings are hugely promising, but it is still too soon to know if this is enough to offer protection and larger trials are under way. The UK has already ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine.

AR Oxford has good scientists.

 □

EU Recovery Fund Impasse

Financial Times

EU leaders are still haggling over the size of the EU coronavirus recovery fund. A frugal alliance of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden say they want to scale back proposed grants from €450 billion to €350 billion, coupled with another €350 billion of loans, in a recovery package worth €700 billion.
The offer is a jump from the previous frugal position not to give grants under the recovery fund. But it got a cool response from states hit hard by the pandemic. France, Germany, Spain, and Italy want to ringfence the grants at no less than €400 billion.
In May, Paris and Berlin called on the European Commission to borrow €500 billion and hand out grants to assist stricken member states. Commission president Ursula von der Leyen later added an extra €250 billion of loans in a plan for a total package of €750 billion.
Spain and Italy will not accept plans to let finance ministers decide whether a member state deserves to keep receiving tranches of recovery aid. Poland and Hungary rejected a draft plan to require a qualified majority of member states to back cash sanctions but want a national veto.
A diplomat says negotiations are stuck and risk ending in failure.

AR Business as usual, then.

 

2020 July 19

Communism vs Capitalism

Matthew Syed

A historic battle is being waged between the Communist Party of China and the liberal democratic order of the West. This will be a battle over quantum computing, AI, and global influence. It is a battle the West might lose.
Decay has taken hold in the West. This is not Donald Trump, or the woeful response to the pandemic, or a million other scandals across the democratic world. It is not even western short-termism in contrast to Chinese strategic planning for 2050.
The decay is a rot so familiar we can no longer smell it. The last people to spot a system in decline are insiders. Outsiders are better placed to do so.
Xi Jinping knows the Chinese system is corrupt and riddled with contradictions. Politburo members think the time is ripe for global expansion not because they feel their own strength but because they see western weakness. They see epic polarization, surreal identity wars, and growing western contempt for western history and institutions.
Vladimir Putin in Russia sees it too. Western pundits say Russian meddling stems from the internal dynamics of Russia and its president. In fact, Putin sees a western order in decline.
We in the West no longer notice the legalized corruption, the revolving door between politics and business, the rules rigged to suit special interests. Russia and China are poking at a West that is decaying from within and losing international support.

AR Exercise: Prove that the great dialectic of history favors state communism over libertarian capitalism in the long term.

 □

Populism in Poland

Peter Conradi

Last week, Andrzej Duda was narrowly confirmed for a second term as president of Poland. His daughter Kinga, 25, said: "No one should be afraid to leave the house .. Let's respect each other."
The ruling conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) aims to tighten its control over Poland. Its narrow electoral victory reflects a society split between young urban Civic Platform supporters and the old Catholic PiS voters in the provinces.
Former Civic Platform prime minister Radek Sikorski says the PiS models are the dictatorships of Francisco Franco in Spain, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal, and Viktor Orban in Hungary: "The objective is to create a national Catholic state in which the government can't lose an election."
PiS is a populist party. Its voters respect traditional Polish values and dislike EU policies. The European Commission has initiated Article 7 proceedings against Poland — a nuclear option.

AR Trump and Brexit all over again.

 

2020 July 18

Trump Will Get Destroyed

Anthony Scaramucci

In my 11 days in the White House, some people said my press conference was well handled and well executed. But President Trump was not in love with it, which indicated to me that I was going to end up having a problem with him.
One cabinet official said to me there are two things that, if he says to you, you know you're in trouble: one, you're getting more famous than me; or two, you're getting too much attention. That's like your near-death experience. He said to James Comey, you're getting more famous than me, and then a week later he was fired.
I found that when I was briefing him, I had to put pictures of him in the briefing. When I put the pictures in, it was a good sign, and when I didn't put the pictures in, you couldn't get him to focus on it. But even then he wouldn't listen to you anyway because he's so maniacally narcissistic.
It's not the first time I've been fired. I'm a little bit of a rogue. But being on the front page of a tabloid when your personal life is being destroyed and you're being disfigured as a human being and a lot of lies are being said about you — that is The Shawshank Redemption, because you have to go through that sewer pipe of humiliation and shame and you're being disfigured.
It made me a better person. It made me more psychologically aware. I turned on Trump in August 2019. I was loyal to him for two years after my departure. I said, OK, that's enough for me and I cannot be affiliated with this anymore, I'm not going to disavow my personal integrity and my life story to support this man. The guy stinks and he's a racist and he's an American nativist.
He's going to get destroyed. His ardent support is wilting. By November, there'll be over 200 000 people dead from the coronavirus. He's on a trajectory of a downward slope and he's subconsciously self-detonating. He's got his hand on the self-detonator now.

AR It takes a rat to know one.

 □

UK Back to Normal by Christmas?

The Guardian

The official figure for confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK is now almost 300 000 (England > 252K, Scotland > 18K, Wales > 16K, NI > 5K) and the death toll exceeds 45 000.
Boris Johnson says employers can let staff back to the office from 1 August. His proposal has not been endorsed by the chief medical officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty, and the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.
Johnson: "It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest, possibly in time for Christmas."

AR Normal by Christmas? Only if BJ rolls back Brexit.

 

2020 July 17

Historic US Calamity

CNN

The United States just recorded more than 77,000 new cases of Covid-19, the most ever in a single day. US deaths from the disease so far exceed 138,000. Florida, Texas, and Arizona have set new records for infections, and intensive care units and morgues have filled up.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany: "We believe this President has great approval in this country. His historic Covid response speaks for itself."

AR Dump Trump now.

 □

Individuals

Jordana Cepelewicz

Information theory can help us define individuals to reflect the relationships they have with their environment. So defined, individuals emerge as distinct patterns within larger schemes of behavior or activity. In biology, by contrast, an organism is said to be an entity that is physically separated from its environment, that has DNA and can replicate, and that is subject to natural selection.
Santa Fe Institute researcher David Krakauer aims to find an operational metric for quantifying individuality based on the intrinsic dynamics of a system. He and Jessica Flack use information theory to view an individual as an aggregate that preserves a measure of temporal integrity, propagating a near-maximal amount of information forward in time.
Krakauer and Flack say individuality can exist at any level of biological organization, can nest one individual inside another, and exists on a continuum that allows degrees of it. This approach can resolve definitional problems about, say, whether a virus is a living individual. The question becomes how living it is and how much individuality it has.
The Santa Fe team break information flows into parts and evaluate individuality based on how different combinations of environmental influences and internal dynamics can predict the future states of a system. They distinguish three types of individuality:
 The organismal individual is shaped by environmental factors but is strongly self-organizing, with nearly all its defining information internal, based on its own prior states.
 The colonial form involves a more complicated relationship between internal and external factors.
 The earliest life was driven almost entirely by the environment, like a tornado.
The information theory of individuality may inspire algorithms for running on streams of data collected over time to indicate the emergence of individuals. In this theory, individuals can be cells, tissues, organisms, colonies, companies, political institutions, online groups, artificial intelligence or cities, or even ideas or theories.

AR Promising.

 

UV Sun
ESA
UV view of Sun by European Space Agency Solar Orbiter Extreme Ultraviolet Imager from distance of 77 Gm (0.51 AU)
ESA Solar Orbiter Mission EUI Investigation at UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory co-principal investigator David Long:
"No images have been taken of the Sun at such a close distance before and the level of detail they provide is impressive."
 

BILD



⦿ AF
BILD owner Axel Springer, 1985

10 Downing Street
⦿ Andrew Parsons
Earth calling Mars

Alessandra Ambrosio
Alessandra Ambrosio
European high summer

Roger Stone
Roger Stone

 

2020 July 16

America vs China

Janan Ganesh

The United States is sliding into conflict against China. Politicians who can be counted on to dispute anything else agree on the need for a superpower duel. Joe Biden only faults President Donald Trump's China line for its softness.
A US-China struggle may be ordained. A surging power, an established one; a one-party state, a democracy: the raw materials for conflict are there. But the absence of dissenting voices means policy is not being refined through argument.
It is no longer clear if US grievances stop at China's trade practices or reach into its domestic treatment of its own people. An economic rivalry would be bad enough. One that pits governing philosophies against each other is much worse.
Dissent is becoming a political no-no. Even by the standards of an election year, the reluctance to say anything construable as soft is impossible to miss. On the China question, Americans are troublingly civilised.

AR Too few people in America understand the greater dialectic of history.

 □

Lewis Loses Whip

BBC News

Dr Julian Lewis MP has been kicked out of the Conservative parliamentary party after beating Chris Grayling to become chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
ISC statement: "The committee has unanimously agreed this morning that it will publish the Report on Russia prepared by its predecessor before the house rises for the summer recess."

Boris Fails
The Times

Boris Johnson's attempt to install Chris Grayling as head of the ISC has failed. Conservative former defence committee chair Julian Lewis took the chair of the ISC when all four of its non-Tory members voted for him.

Boris Fails Again
John Crace

As usual at prime minister's questions, Boris Johnson was unable to cope.
Keir Starmer asked about the report from the Academy of Medical Sciences that said the UK test-and-trace capacity should be expanded to cope with demand next winter: What assurance can he give that it will be fit for purpose by September?
Boris: "Our test and trace system is as good as, or better than, any other system anywhere in the world."
Starmer asked him if he'd read the report.
Boris: "I am of course aware of the report."
Starmer suggested Boris was in denial about the weakness of the UK response and wondered what he might like to say to the families of those who had died as a result of his negligence.
Boris responded by saying Starmer had "more briefs than Calvin Klein" — duh.

AR Dump Bodger now.

 □

BILD Zeitung

Julian Reichelt

BILD is the last national campfire experience in German life. It's the last thing that Germans can come together for. We're read by German professors, businessmen, and workers alike.
We're the voice of ordinary people. If we didn't exist, they would really think the whole system is against them. You have to feel their emotions. Journalism is basically about emotions.
I was born into a family of journalists. In our household, Axel Springer was a hero, and Heinrich Böll was an enemy. I'm a real tabloid editor. But when so many of your staff are female, and they're all very professional, it gets slightly awkward having to rank naked women with them every day.
BILD was right about the three major questions of postwar German life. We backed Israel to the hilt, we backed the USA to the hilt, and we were convinced that German reunification could work.
The press has created this elaborate mythology around Angela Merkel. They say she's a savage wit in private and she's fantastically clever. She's just capable of identifying the direction of the prevailing wind. But we want nothing to do with the imbeciles of the AfD. The way to destroy them is to make room for their voters in what used to be the political mainstream of this country.
The fundamental German ideal of freedom is that you can do what you want, within the rules. The speed limit interferes with that. There are too many Germans now waking up to find that if they eat meat and love their car, they're suddenly Nazis.
The German left speak of their fellow citizens as criminals, committing crimes against future generations. They want to bring the German car industry to a screeching halt, freeze rents in Berlin, starve the economy, and keep Germany from doing anything in the world.
President Trump has shown the future needn't be dictated by Green parties and child protesters.
BILD has the power to destroy. That's its most valuable weapon. I wouldn't sacrifice it for anything.

AR BILD is like all the British tabloids rolled into one.

 

2020 July 15

America vs China

Richard Lloyd Parry

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo accuses China of "intimidation, bullying, and claims of maritime empire" in the South China Sea. His statement reflects new shows of force in the region and adds to a growing mood of confrontation between Washington and Beijing.
Trade worth $5 trillion passes every year through the South China Sea, including oil for Japan and South Korea. The neighbouring states claim hundreds of reefs and small islands in the sea. Since 2014, China has concreted over some of them to build military bases.
Washington is standing up to China on a range of issues. Beijing has raised tensions all around by clashing with India on their disputed border, imposing a new national security law on Hong Kong, and dispatching ships to raise tensions with neighbouring states.

AR Try calm and patient dialog.

 □

EU Tax Harmonization

Financial Times

Tax justice is a priority for the German presidency of the European Council. The German government wants to press ahead with implementing minimum taxation in the EU and to target unfair corporate tax regimes in EU member states.
The European Commission is exploring ways to reduce the ability of multinationals to exploit advantageous corporate tax schemes. The move would require the backing of a qualified majority of the EU27 member states and approval by the European Parliament.
Tax avoidance by multinationals has shot up the political agenda in the wake of the pandemic as governments around the world spend billions to kick-start their economies. The commission will also revive its plans for a digital services tax on big tech companies.
The EU has often tried to clamp down on aggressive tax planning schemes. It will explore how to get its proposals approved by qualified majority instead of unanimity. It can use Article 116 of the EU treaty to correct unfair tax schemes.

AR The UK needs this discipline too.

 □

Brexit Lost Friends

Rafael Behr

Britain is leaving the EU. The UK government is spending £93 million on a campaign with the slogan CHECK, CHANGE, GO.
The UK government has narrowed the scope of talks with the EU to trade. All the rest is off the table. Now Boris Johnson is stuck because his trade policy is a blank sheet of paper and Donald Trump is holding the pen.
As an EU member, Britain had let the EU use the size of the single market as leverage in trade talks. A UK seat at the WTO is no substitute for losing influence as one of the big three EU members.
The UK is sliding into a void. The national interest requires a strategic partnership with the EU.

AR Bodger has lost the plot. His first duty, as Winston Churchill put it, is to "Keep buggering on" (KBO) and not to hide behind Leninist slogans.

 

2020 July 14

Failing Grayling: Really?

Rachel Sylvester

Boris Johnson has made Chris Grayling chairman of the intelligence and security committee ISC. The appointment has been greeted with ridicule in parliament and raised eyebrows in Whitehall. As a cabinet minister, Grayling committed blunders said to have squandered £2.7 billion of public money.
The ISC is a powerful committee with an important constitutional role overseeing the most sensitive activities of the state. Its members have privileged access to classified information. Their job is to ensure that the correct balance is maintained between civil liberties and national security.
Former Foreign Office head Lord Ricketts says a strong ISC that is willing to embarrass the government if necessary is essential to retain public trust in the intelligence community. Downing Street has already delayed publication of an ISC report into Russian interference in UK politics.

AR Publish the report now.

 □

Cummings Capitalism

Lloyd Hardy

Dominic Cummings is furthering far-right libertarian goals in the UK. His rich backers have bet big against the UK economy, so he must stay in post to deliver a no-deal Brexit.
Boris Johnson brought Cummings into Downing Street to get Brexit done. The billionaire hedge fund managers who paid for the Vote Leave campaign want the UK to crash out of the EU because they can profit in a deregulated UK economy.
Sir Paul Marshall co-owns Marshall Wallace, which manages $39 billion in assets. His company has made £50 million by betting against the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic. He convinced Michael Gove to lead Vote Leave in 2016 and personally donated £100,000 to the campaign. Gove recruited Cummings to deliver Brexit.
Most of the funding for Vote Leave came from hedge fund managers betting against the UK economy. Crispin Odey invested £100,000 in Vote Leave and reaped £220 million in profit by hedging against the UK.
Odey also helped Jacob Rees-Mogg to set up his own hedge fund, Somerset Capital, and to move assets to Dublin to avoid losses from Brexit. He provided financial services at cost to Somerset Capital and funded Rees-Mogg's election campaign.
Hedge fund managers are extremely powerful and influential. The top 400 companies manage $65 trillion in assets. Total world economic output is only about $80 trillion.
Betting against the UK is not the main reason why these managers funded Vote Leave and a no-deal Brexit. EU regulations safeguard the UK economy against a repeat of the 2008 financial market crash by requiring that EU member states adhere to safe practices when providing credit.
Speculators can only be free again to make unsafe bets as they did before 2008 if the UK leaves the EU and the City of London goes back to its old ways with deregulated financial services.
Johnson, Cummings, Gove, and Rees-Mogg are part of the UK government and have a duty to protect the UK economy. Instead, they are helping financiers to remove the safety bars put in place after the 2008 financial crisis.
Cummings is working in government to liberate hedge funds, so $65 trillion says he stays in Westminster and continues hacking the political system until a no-deal Brexit that circumvents EU financial regulations is delivered.
Cummings appears to be working for the libertarian goals of no taxes, no health service, no minimum wage, no sick leave, no disability support, no welfare system, no police, no foreign aid, and no financial regulation in the UK.

AR The source text for this looked a mess.

 

2020 July 13

American Horror

Charles M. Blow

Donald Trump's politicization of the coronavirus has resulted in a new surge of cases: America has now reported 3.2 million cases and has tallied nearly 135,000 deaths.
The Washington Post: "Trump often launches into a monologue placing himself at the center of the nation's turmoil. The president has cast himself in the starring role of the blameless victim — of a deadly pandemic, of a stalled economy, of deep-seated racial unrest, all of which happened to him rather than the country."
This is the America we now live in. Sales workers face customers who refuse to wear masks inside stores. We are living in a horror film starring Donald Trump.

AR We all are, worldwide.

 □

Polish Drama

The Guardian

Poland's incumbent president Andrzej Duda has been elected to a new term of office. He won 51.2% of the vote, with almost all the ballots counted.
Liberal challenger Rafał Trzaskowski took 48.8% of the vote. He conceded defeat and tweeted: "May this term really be different."
Both camps pitched the election as a battle for the future of Poland. Duda promised another term backing the agenda of the ruling populist party and pledged to defend family values at the expense of LGBT rights.
Poland has had 37,000 confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,600 deaths. Voters were required to wear masks and gloves and maintain social distancing.

AR Another problem for the EU to handle.

 

2020 July 12

Prosecution of Roger Stone

Robert S. Mueller III

I feel compelled to respond to claims that our investigation was illegitimate and our motives improper.
The Russia investigation was of paramount importance. Roger Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. We made every decision in his case, as in all our cases, based solely on the facts and the law and in accordance with the rule of law. The women and men who conducted these investigations and prosecutions acted with the highest integrity.
We also identified numerous links between the Russian government and Trump campaign personnel, Stone among them. We did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its activities. The investigation did establish that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome. It also established that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.
When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of government efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.

AR Senator Mitt Romney: "Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president."

 □

Gravity

Claudia de Rham

General relativity paints space and time as a flexible entity called spacetime. Quantum theory shows that quantum fields can form waves and propagate through space and that we can also think of these waves as particles.
Each fundamental force has its quantum field and one or more bosons. The mass of a boson is inversely proportional to the range of the force. In a complete quantum theory of gravity, spacetime is a quantum field and waves in it have a boson, the graviton.
To explain the long range of gravity, the graviton must be either massless or very light. If gravitons have no mass, then they must travel at c, the speed of light. If they have mass, they can travel at different speeds.
But if gravitons have mass, they come in different varieties, each with different properties, and one of them a ghost particle with negative energy. These ghosts would quickly erase all order in the universe, so gravitons can't have mass.
My colleagues and I have found a way in 4D spacetime to describe massive gravitons in such a way that they don't produce ghosts. Massive gravitons would increase the speed of the Moon in its orbit around the Earth by less than 1 fm/s.
But massive gravitational waves would generally travel at less than speed c, with refraction effects depending on frequency to form gravitational rainbows. LIGO has detected no sign that gravitational waves form rainbows.

AR Rainbows might be nice, but I'm skeptical.

 

Beach
AR
Poole beach, Sunday morning

Spitfires
UNPIXS
British self-applause again:
Spits fly by for Vera Lynn on
80th anniversary of start of
Battle of Britain

cancel

Perfidious Albion

Lauren Cohan
⦿ Lauren Cohan

Science

Rishi Sunak
TIMES
UK chancellor Rishi Sunak and
his wife Akshata will dine in a
London restaurant today

Prince Andrew
⦿ Tim Graham
HRH Prince Andrew with
Ghislaine Maxwell: Did she
pimp for Jeffrey Epstein?
And will she rat on
Randy Andy?

 

2020 July 11

Brexit Bottleneck

The Guardian

The UK government has purchased 11 hectares of land 30 km from Dover to site a new Brexit customs clearance centre for the 10,000 trucks coming through from Calais every day. Work will begin on fencing off the Ashford site on Monday. The local council were given only a few hours' notice that the land is now in public ownership.
Parliamentary undersecretary of state for transport Rachel Maclean: "The Department of Transport has purchased the site known as 'MOJO' .. anticipated to form part of the Department's strategy to minimise potential disruption at Kent ports for the end of the transition period."

AR MOJO makes about as much sense as the Berlin Wall did. Better to build a 6-lane highway bridge over the Channel.

 □

Brexit Bolshevik

James Garrington

Dominic Cummings barely spoke Russian and had no real knowledge of Russian business practice, but he moved to Russia to "set up an airline" in the middle of nowhere. It was not a success, but by the time he returned to the UK he had made a number of high-level contacts in the Putin regime. He then ran the Vote Leave campaign.
Despite failing his Civil Service entry exams, Cummings now works in 10 Downing Street as Boris Johnson's chief special adviser. He has cut through the process to gain top security clearance and will visit secret and secure military sites. He says he plans to strip back UK defence capability.

AR The UK would be better off with a military coup to get BoJo and his Leninist parasite out of government.

 

2020 July 10

China and America

Zhou Jin

Chinese state councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi says China and the US should jointly explore ways for peaceful coexistence and release more positive energy.
Wang suggests China and the US compile three lists that outline issues they could work on, detail disputed issues to resolve through dialog, and identify the tough issues they disagree on. He says they should manage the tough disputes and minimize their damage to bilateral relations.
Vice-foreign minister Le Yucheng said the trend toward China-US cooperation is unstoppable and urged the US to get relations with China back on track. He said some Americans are portraying China as an adversary or an enemy, seeking to frustrate and contain China's development, and impeding interaction between China and the US.
Le said China does not intend to challenge or replace or confront the US. But while the US encircles and smears China around the world and meddles in China's domestic affairs, it should not demand that China show understanding and support for the US in bilateral and global affairs.
Wang: "As long as the US is ready, we can restore and restart the dialog mechanisms at all levels and in all areas. Only communication can dispel falsehoods, and only dialogue can prevent miscalculation."

AR Note the reasonable and positive tone.

 

2020 July 9

Justice and Open Debate

Elliot Ackerman et al. (153 names)

Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform .. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.
.. Donald Trump .. represents a real threat to democracy ..
The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom .. [We] need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes .. If we won't defend [it], we shouldn't expect the public or the state to defend it for us.

Cancel Culture Is Orwellian
Steven Pinker

Orwellian language has infused the cancel culture. Disagreeing is called punching down or silencing or drowning out. It doesn't matter what anyone says, you can always accuse them of having dog whistles of your own invention.
The data seems to suggest that there is racial bias in harassment by police in frisking and arrests but not in shootings. However, that clashes with the narratives that police shootings are a result of racism. It's considered an outrage to cite that finding.
A large number of people have been appalled at the firings, the cancelations, and the state of oppression, but in an atmosphere in which you can be canceled for protesting a cancelation it's quite possible for a majority of people to be silenced. A minority view can become entrenched. Breaking the spiral of silence can point something out that a large number of people believe but have been cowed into acquiescence.
Societies can get locked into a circle of mutual, pre-emptive denunciation: You denounce lest you be denounced. You prove that you're on the right side of the moral crusade by denouncing those on the wrong side before you yourself get denounced.
There's an atmosphere like The Sopranos: "Nice career you've got there. It would be a real shame if something happened to it."

AR The danger is real: We can't appease every minority.

 □

UK Mini Budget

The Times

Chancellor Rishi Sunak pumped another £30 billion into the UK economy yesterday. His new package of tax breaks, consumer discounts, and wage subsidies brings the total to more than £188 billion for nursing the economy through the crisis. At 9.4% of GDP, that far exceeds other Whitehall budgets. The Treasury has injected a further £122 billion as loans and deferred taxes into the economy during the crisis, for a total so far of £310 billion. Sunak warned MPs that more would be needed.

The Wrong Economy
Janet Street-Porter

Dishi Rishi can deliver a summer economic statement and make it sound like he's giving away thousands of cash prizes to lucky winners on the Lottery. But if saving our economy relies on bribing us all to going back to buying throwaway fashion, half-price Nando's meals, and overpriced houses from each other, maybe we have the wrong kind of economy.

AR Sure we do, but let's rescue each other first.

 

2020 July 8

Germany Merkel

Anna Sauerbrey

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is on her way out. The pandemic is likely to be her last great challenge. It could also seal her legacy.
After defeats in regional elections in late 2018, Merkel said she would not run again in 2021 and stepped down as head of the CDU. Now Germany has contained the pandemic, 4 in 5 Germans say she is doing her job well, and the CDU is back on top.
When the virus hit, neither Merkel nor the federal government were technically in charge. Most of the relevant powers lay with the 16 federal states. But the chancellor took the lead, coordinating the state heads, pushing for nationwide regulations, and convening top scientists.
Merkel quickly grasped the severity of the situation. In late February, she pushed for a nationwide lockdown. On March 18, she spoke directly and frankly to the German people on TV and reached the hearts and minds of German citizens.
She acted decisively at the European level, too. On May 18, Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron of France proposed that the European Commission should borrow €500 billion from the financial markets to help member states in need.
Merkel: "When you're in politics, you just have to adjust to new realities and situations. That's our job."

AR The best national leader in the world.

 □

Spooky Action at a Distance

George Musser

The laws of physics have traditionally taken the existence of space as a given. Today we know that the universe has more to it than things situated within space. Nonlocal phenomena have no place in space. They hint at a level of reality deeper than space, where the concept of distance ceases to apply. The building blocks cannot presume space if they are to explain it. They must have neither size nor location. They are everywhere and nowhere.

AR Math is full of such things.

 

2020 July 7

Europe and China

Financial Times

Angela Merkel is facing criticism in Germany for her strategic partnership with China.
Bundestag foreign affairs committee head Norbert Röttgen: "What the German government said about Hong Kong was the absolute minimum, and it just wasn't enough."
EU parliamentarians say China's imposition of the national security law risks undermining the autonomy of Hong Kong.
Merkel seeks dialog with China on the basis of mutual respect and a relationship of trust. She says it is in the European interest to work together with Beijing on fighting climate change and developing relations with Africa.
SDU foreign policy spokesman Nils Schmid: "Merkel's China policy is behind the times."
Germany has good economic relations with China, with trade of €200 billion in 2018.

AR I'm on Merkel's side here.

 □

Patriotism

George Kateb

Patriotism is a moral mistake and an intellectual mistake.
Love of country is thought to be natural, like love of family. But you don't have to say you love a country. You can love certain principles that anyone can adopt, and you can say the country is good because it is built on them.
A patriot thinks this country is mine, so it has to be good. That sets the country above its principles. A philosopher can love principles directly.
Plato defends treating your country as if it were your parents. But when the Greeks gave their lives to the city, they were not doing it for their parent city but because that was part of their masculinity.
Kant said language and religion are sources of human differentiation. He believed in an international federation of republics. Each republic would have its own constitution, built on the same principles.

AR Philosophers and scientists rise above languages and religions.

 

2020 July 6

Coronavirus and Citizenship

Martin Wolf

A constitutional democracy without a thriving middle class can turn into a plutocracy, a demagogy, or a tyranny. Western democracies are in danger.
Capitalism is rigged in favor of finance. Companies aim to maximize shareholder value, competition is low, tax avoidance is high, and technological change increases inequality.
The decline of manufacturing jobs has left industrial regions behind. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson came to power by wooing the left behind.
The coronavirus shutdown
 favors old over young, men over women, and rich over poor
 leads to vast fiscal spending and big debts to pay
 highlights the power of the state
The first concern of democratic states is the welfare of all their citizens. A state needs a vigorous middle class and a safety net for everyone.

AR The state is the shepherd, the peeps are sheep.

 □

Lingerie Liberation

Emine Saner

Back home after a shopping trip, university lecturer Louise Kilburn realised she wasn't wearing a bra: "I'd completely forgotten to put it on."
Long before the lockdown began, she says: "The first thing I did when returning home was to rid myself of the constraints of my underwired bra, as soon as I got into the hallway. There is no greater liberation."
Working from home has been a chance to do away with uncomfortable and unnecessary underwear. Local authority councillor Emma Roddick stopped wearing a bra early on: "Now I put one on, I think: I want this off, this is horrible."
There may be legitimate health reasons for wearing a bra. But for many women, the bra deforms the shape of breasts and restricts their natural movement merely to mask the nipples.
Actor Alison Harris on not wearing a bra: "It feels more freeing. It's definitely a comfort thing."

AR Comfort wins.

 

2020 July 5

Socializing Success

Mariana Mazzucato

When the economy is in crisis, we turn to governments for help. But when the economy is flourishing, we ignore them and let corporations take the rewards. We socialize risks but privatize rewards.
The coronavirus crisis offers a chance to change this dynamic. Confusion of price with value has propelled inequality and warped the role of the public sector. A public wealth fund with a citizens' dividend would transform government intervention and create a more equitable economy.
Government grants and loans should come with conditions to align corporate behavior with societal goals. Work should be properly remunerated, and the rewards distributed more equitably.

AR At present, governments pay rich people with profits and punish poor people with taxes.

 □

Fiction and Responsibility

Esther Allen

Fiction that claims to be based on history has responsibilities to real people and their lives, places they inhabit, and truth. At a time when systematic disinformation campaigns are abetting the rise of authoritarian governments the world over, it might be unwise to discard all concepts of boundaries or dividing lines between the imaginative freedom of literary fiction and distortion or falsehood.
Successful works of fiction tend to handle history with great care, particularly where real individuals are concerned. They call their protagonists by their real names and adhere, for the most part, to the known record of their lives. Portraying the living is a more delicate question.

AR ALBION

 

2020 Independence Day

Mount Rushmore Address

Donald Trump

Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children. Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.
In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished.
Make no mistake, this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American revolution. They want to silence us, but we will not be silenced. We stand tall, we stand proud, and we only kneel before almighty God.

AR Some US voters will buy this.

 □

Bundeswehr Naziproblem

Konstantin von Hammerstein

Ein Unteroffizier sagt: "Alle Juden müssten vergast werden." Er wird aus der Bundeswehr entlassen. Das Verteidigungsministerium braucht 33 Seiten, um alle rechtsextremen Bundeswehrvorfälle des vergangenen Jahres aufzulisten.
Rechtsextremismus und -terrorismus sind die "größte Bedrohung für die Sicherheit in Deutschland", warnt Verfassungsschutzpräsident Thomas Haldenwang.
Man muss sich die Verbreitung des Rechtsextremismus in der Bundeswehr so vorstellen wie die Corona-Pandemie. Die meisten Soldaten halten Abstand, aber es gibt braune Hotspots. Sie müssen mit allen Mitteln unter Kontrolle gehalten werden.
Anders als bei der Corona-Pandemie wird weder Herdenimmunität noch Impfstoff die Bundeswehr auf Dauer schützen. Nur eines hilft: permanente demokratische Wachsamkeit.

AR So eine Pandemie ist eher in Amerika zu befürchten.

 □

Britain and Covid-19

Martin Fletcher

On 31 January, Boris Johnson celebrated Brexit. The first confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK were found in York.
On 3 February, Johnson delivered a speech in London: "We are starting to hear .. there is a risk that new diseases .. will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational."
..
On 3 June, Johnson told MPs: "Very proud of our record. If you look at what we have achieved so far, it is very considerable."
By July, Britain had the highest recorded coronavirus death toll in Europe, and the third highest in the world, with roughly 43 000 confirmed deaths and some 65 000 excess deaths, of which around 300 were health workers.
Former chief scientific adviser to the government David King: "There has been a series of really dreadful mistakes by this government that has led to a vast number of people dying and they need not have died."

AR A shameful record.

 □

The Magnetic Universe

Natalie Wolchover

Astronomers are finding magnetic fields in ever more remote regions of the cosmos. Magnetic fields surround Earth, the Sun, galaxies, galaxy clusters, and 10 Zm filaments of the cosmic web.
Primordial magnetism may be everywhere, even in the voids of the cosmic web, and have seeded the stronger fields in galaxies and clusters. It might even explain the Hubble tension — the problem that the universe seems to be expanding faster than expected.
As charged particles pass through a magnetic field, their paths twist and they emit synchrotron radiation. LOFAR, an array of 20 000 low-frequency radio antennas spread across Europe, has seen a synchrotron glow from cosmic filaments.
Magnetic fields may have arisen during the electroweak phase transition moments ABB, or later, when protons formed. Or perhaps a turbulent plasma of protons and electrons spun up the first magnetic fields. Space may have become magnetized during cosmic inflation.
We can test such theories by studying the pattern of magnetic fields in the emptiest voids of intergalactic space. A magnetic field rotates the polarization of light passing through it. This rotation depends on the strength of the magnetic field and the frequency of the light. The Square Kilometer Array due to start up in 2027 should detect it.
We have evidence of magnetic fields between us and blazars, which emit gamma rays and are powered by supermassive black holes. The gamma rays can collide with CMB and create electron-positron pairs, which decay into lower-energy gamma rays. If a blazar shines through a magnetized void, charged particles are deflected and we no longer see the low-energy gamma rays. A faint halo around blazars behind voids suggests enough primordial magnetism to resolve the Hubble tension.
Weak magnetic fields in a plasma-filled young universe makes protons and electrons in the plasma fly along the magnetic field lines and clump where the field is weak. Clumping made the protons and electrons recombine into hydrogen earlier than otherwise.
We find the rate of cosmic expansion by observing the CMB from recombination. Blobs in the young universe formed from sound waves in the primordial plasma. If recombination happened earlier, the blobs would be smaller. This implies a higher cosmic expansion rate.
The amount of primordial magnetism needed to address the Hubble tension also agrees with the blazar observations and the estimated size of initial fields needed to grow the cosmic magnetic fields we see. It fits.

AR So much for dark energy!

 


NEON
Portrait of a Lady on Fire — director Céline Sciamma won awards for the movie at Cannes 2019.

Rejoin

Covid-19
EPA
Atlanta, Georgia

A. Merkel
Kanzlerin Merkel
Deutschland übernimmt die
EU-Ratspräsidentschaft

 

2020 July 3

White Power

Michelle Goldberg

President Trump tweeted "Thank you to the great people of The Villages" with a video showing a man in The Villages, an affluent Florida retirement community, shouting "White power!" at protesters from a golf cart bedecked with Trump signs.
People voted for Trump for reasons besides racism. But Trump seems to grasp that racism put him over the top. Apoplectic over plans to paint the words "Black Lives Matter" on Fifth Avenue in front of Trump Tower, he called the slogan "a symbol of hate."
Republicans who complain that the president is undisciplined, that he can't adhere to a strategy, miss the point: Bigotry has always been the strategy.

 □

Boris Johnson's First Year

Ferdinand Mount

Boris Johnson is not a normal prime minister. It is painful to watch his slapdash boosterism. It is jarring to hear his ministers say they are proud of their achievements in the middle of a pandemic that has cost so many lives.
At three key moments during the pandemic, Johnson made the wrong decision. He failed to lock down quickly, he abandoned any effort to track and trace, and he failed to quarantine travellers from abroad until long after the virus had passed its peak. His reaction to these embarrassments has been to double down.
The NHS as Labour left it in 2010 was working well, meeting basic needs at low cost. Then the Lansley reforms of 2012 cut its funding. Directors of public health were no longer required to be doctors. The Regional Health Authorities were disbanded, replaced by a new central body called Public Health England. And responsibility for care homes was dumped on local authorities, which then had their central funding cut by 60%.
Since Brexit Day in January, the Brexit negotiations have been managed by a new Task Force Europe, led by David Frost, a Foreign Office diplomat who has always loathed the EU. His conversations with Michel Barnier have become openly bitter and recriminatory. Frost is backed up by contemptuous briefings from the Number Ten press office, again of an unprecedented rudeness.
Johnson has always wanted to leave the single market and the customs union and say goodbye to the European Court of Justice. Any deals are to be transient transactions, to be terminated when either side fancies. For Johnson, national sovereignty trumps commerce every time.
The first outing for Global Britain is to pick a fight with China. Whether expelling Huawei from the UK 5G system or saving Hong Kong, Johnson seems increasingly inclined to copy the prickly isolationism of Donald Trump.
Johnson is also shoring up his power at home. He has a secure hold on the Conservative party after purging his own MPs and compelling all 650 of his parliamentary candidates to sign up to his Brexit policy. Yet he shows no visible interest in broadening his party in the country.
These months have shown us a government and a prime minister of unique incompetence, deceitful and panicky, and often inattentive to essential business. Yet after the epidemic, the UK will still have the same government and the same prime minister.

 

2020 July 2

American Nightmare

Edward Luce

A November nightmare: Donald Trump wins the electoral college by a clear margin. Joe Biden wins the popular vote by 6 million. Trump is reelected according to the rules.
In four presidential election games run by the Transition Integrity Project, 1−3 began with a narrow Biden victory and an inconclusive electoral college result. Trump threatened to use the national guard to end recounts in contested states and leveraged his office to gain the upper hand. In game 4, Biden clearly won the popular vote and the electoral college, but Trump contested the result.
America gives the loser another 10 weeks of power — nuclear button included — before the winner takes over. American democracy is heading for a stress test.

 □

Is Trump Toast?

Frank Bruni

In their final years in office, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush experienced a noticeable slide in popularity before losing their bids for reelection. Their polling numbers sank below 40% in May and June and pretty much stayed there through Election Day.
Donald Trump has just experienced the same dip. If Carter and Bush are harbingers, Trump is toast in November. Recent polls show him trailing Joe Biden by double digits.
Trump has responded by setting himself on fire. He has flamed with self-defeating provocations, kamikaze tantrums, and wild tweets. He has created his own icons: a white supremacist astride a golf cart in Florida and a pistol-toting Karen shouting at peaceful Black protesters in Missouri.
Trump now has little chance to change the dynamics of the presidential race. His approval rating since his inauguration has been consistently down between 35% and 45%. He has alienated everyone but the MAGA true believers.
The surprises are all cutting against Trump. We now learned he was informed about Russian bounties on American soldiers but didn't seem to care. Surprises will keep coming.

Mad, Bad, Dangerous
Richard North Patterson

By June 2016, Donald Trump had supplied us with overwhelming evidence of a pathology that disqualified him for the presidency. I said then that his wildly oscillating utterances and behavior met the clinical definition of narcissistic personality disorder.
Our president is sick. By the end of May 2020, Trump had made more than 19,000 false or misleading claims in a little over 1,200 days in office. He had manipulated the Justice Department, attacked the rule of law, refused to honor congressional subpoenas, consorted with authoritarian leaders, asserted unlimited power, and tried to get electoral assistance from foreign governments.
Hungry for attention, he subjects us to a constant stream of scurrilous tweets, false accusations, rank divisiveness, unhinged conspiracy theories, blatant racial innuendos, shameless denials of reality, reflexive self-pity, unbounded grandiosity, puerile insults to his enemies, and claims of superior expertise in areas where his abysmal ignorance is manifest. His sole concern is for himself.
Trump has even discovered the real victim of Covid-19: himself. In May, Gabriel Sherman reported Trump telling a confidant: "This is so unfair to me! Everything was going great. We were cruising to reelection!"
Trump's confidant to Sherman: "He lives in his own fucking world."

AR Roll on November.

 □

European Nightmare

Daniel Boffey, Lisa O'Carroll

The latest negotiations on an EU−UK trade and security deal have broken up early.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier: "Our goal was to get negotiations successfully and quickly on a trajectory to reach an agreement. However, after four days of discussions, serious divergences remain .. The EU expects .. its positions to be better understood and respected in order to reach an agreement."
UK negotiator David Frost: "We have completed our discussion of the full range of issues .. The negotiations have .. underlined the significant differences that still remain between us on a number of important issues."

AR Frost = Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, a.k.a. Mr. No.

 □

Is Sterling Toast?

Philip Stephens

Margaret Thatcher once said she would never allow "the Belgians" (the EU) to decide the value of the British pound. She was obliged to relent, and two years later sterling crashed out of the European exchange rate mechanism amid a tsunami of speculative selling.
The pound became an emblem of national sovereignty in the long Tory war with Brussels that led to the Brexit vote in 2016. Since then, its effective exchange rate has fallen by about 14%, and twin budget and current account deficits promise further trouble.
In 1945, about half of global trade was still transacted in sterling. From then on, a failed effort to defend British global prestige produced a series of politically costly devaluations. The devaluation in 1967 led to a final retreat of British forces from east of Suez.
Today, the sovereignty held dear by Brexiteers is an illusion. The appearance of national control does not change the facts of foreign exchange markets. The sterling exchange rate depends on the confidence of foreign investors in the UK.
Brexit will throw up new barriers to trade with Britain's most important market. This will press downward on economic growth and upward on the current account deficit. The government will soon be tempted to respond with a devaluation.
Boris Johnson pledges to turn Brexit into a platform to relaunch Global Britain. He talks big about carving out a new world role for the UK. But no one knows where the money will come from.

AR Long live the euro.

 

2020 July 1

BoJo's New Deal

Rafael Behr

Boris Johnson was propelled to power by the public anger he stoked over bureaucrats in Brussels. Now he pledges to tackle the great unresolved challenges of the last three decades with a "new deal" to reconstruct the UK.
The UK civil service machine is the new target. Civil service head Mark Sedwill is being pushed out and replaced as national security adviser by Brexiteer David Frost, whose only qualification for the job is obedience.
The Johnson junta reached its declared utopia too soon. For most voters, Brexit is done. There is nothing else in the Johnson agenda that can't be delivered by the British state as traditionally configured.
Johnson said he wanted Brexit so badly, he stamped his feet and got it for Christmas. But he cast the thing itself aside and sits in the empty box, brrm-brrming, beep-beeping excitedly, going nowhere.

Upbeat, Vague, Incoherent
John Crace

Boris Johnson rehashed one of his old campaign speeches. Only without the bits about Brexit, which was well and truly done now, given that this was the last day he could have asked the EU for an extension to the transition.
Franklin D Roosevelt had spent 40% of US GDP on huge job creation schemes, while Boris was stumping up 0.2% of UK GDP. Boris acted as if the money was new, but it had already been accounted for.
Boris listed the various infrastructure improvements he had in mind for schools, hospitals, roads, and housing. Admittedly, the French and Germans were well ahead of us in housebuilding, but we were leaving the EU.
Before he headed for the exit, Boris proposed a "clap for capitalists" night to thank those who had done so much to Make Britain Great Again. At least he got people talking about something upbeat.

AR Boris at his best, unfortunately.

 

Solitude
Yale University Press

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